Two areas in downtown Washington, D.C., will be designated as “First Amendment zones” despite amplified security throughout the city and surrounding areas on Inauguration Day, the National Park Service said on Friday.
Most events throughout the city were canceled after numerous requests by the mayor and other officials, but two permits were granted to allow protests at the Navy Memorial and at John Marshall Park, both located along Pennsylvania Avenue, Jeff Reinbold, the superintendent of the National Park Service said at a news conference on Friday.
Reinbold said the groups — which he did not identify — will have 100 people, and individuals will be screened through magnetometers and escorted by the U.S. Park Police to the designated areas to facilitate First Amendment rights in the “premiere First Amendment area in the country.”
“These are different times and require different measures,” he said.
He added that the Secret Service — the lead agency for national special security events such as the inauguration — informed the National Park Service Thursday that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt had authorized that the National Mall — including the monumental core area, the perimeter around the White House, and other sections of Pennsylvania Avenue — be shut down ahead of the event. The areas will remain closed through at least Thursday, Jan. 21.
Bernhardt, a Trump appointee, had held out despite multiple requests from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and other lawmakers to suspend protests ahead of the inauguration as a security precaution after a riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The FBI has warned that there is “chatter” about more violence in the days leading up to the inauguration, which has law enforcement officials across the country on heightened alert.
Matt Miller, the special agent in charge of the Secret Service, said the city has extended the special designation for security from Jan. 13 to Jan. 21, a day after Biden is sworn in.
Officials increased the number of National Guard members who will be deployed in Washington during the presidential inauguration from 15,000 to 20,000 on Wednesday, more than three times the number of U.S. troops currently deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
Public access to the inauguration, which was already scaled back as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, will be further limited.
City officials are erecting a perimeter throughout downtown, putting up barriers around the White House, the National Mall and the Capitol. In order to travel through the perimeter, people will need to provide proof of essential purpose.
In addition, there will be widespread road closures and pared-down transportation services, including metro adjustments and changes to trains and bus routes, throughout the city, Bowser said. She added that she has not ruled out implementing a curfew and will use the tactic if it is needed in the coming days.
She urged residents to “remain vigilant and if you see something, absolutely say something.” Businesses throughout the city are encouraged to print and display signs prohibiting firearms and report any incidents of violence.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has also deployed resources to D.C. and the surrounding areas in Maryland and Virginia, said Maryann Tierney, a regional administrator.
Ambulances will be prestaged close to the Capitol, and food and water sources will also be brought in closer to the district if they are needed.