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‘Too dangerous’: Joe Biden inauguration celebrations canceled amid fears of pro-Trump unrest and COVID-19

  • January 19, 2021

winner of the presidential election in November, Peterson’s mind immediately raced to attending the inauguration. But those hopes were quickly dashed.

On Wednesday, he’ll watch the inauguration with other activists on a TV in south Houston. At 69, Peterson can’t risk traveling during the coronavirus pandemic. And the threat of violence at the hands of overzealous supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump seemed to snuff off any remaining thrill of the event.

“It was like the second hammer coming down,” Peterson said of the Jan. 6 violent siege of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump supporters. “It’s too dangerous.”

first African American and South Asian American woman to be vice president.

A tourist moves to the side as a group of National Guard soldiers moves up 17th Street toward a checkpoint at K Street on Jan. 19, 2021; Washington, D.C. Security preparations continue around the nation's Capitol in preparation for the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Hughes-USA TODAY

Instead, supporters around the country are scratching plans to attend the event and those who showed up to Washington encountered a scene more akin to a military takeover than a time-honored peaceful revel: concrete barriers, checkpoints, troops toting assault rifles, federal helicopters circling the sky. 

An FBI warning of possible armed protests by Trump supporters – who have embraced his false claim that the election was rigged against him – at the U.S Capitol and at state capitol buildings during the inauguration have put the nation on edge and irreversibly altered the look and feel of this year’s inauguration.

vetting the 25,000 National Guard troops coming in for the inauguration to prevent collusion with pro-Trump protesters.

Edna Havlin, 44, navigated the militarized streets over the weekend with her husband and two children. Havlin celebrated Biden’s win by popping open a bottle of champagne in her hometown of São Paulo, Brazil, then immediately booked flights to Washington to be part of the historic occasion.

“Little did we know everything would be upside down now,” she said.

Her 10-year-old daughter, Anna, said she was disappointed to see so many security restrictions.

“The city is very pretty and there’s a lot of history,” she said. “But I’m sad I can’t see the Lincoln Memorial and it’s just so quiet. I’m bummed.”

The family has tickets to some inauguration events but are worried attending could make them a target of pro-Trump agitators. Havlin said she has to remind herself and her family that these are historic times: “It is what it is,” she said. “And we can come back on a better day.”

Anna Havlin, 10, right, and her family came to Washington from Brazil for the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. The nation's capital is on high alert against threats after a deadly pro-Donald Trump insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Earl Stafford, a philanthropist and Democratic campaign donor, attended both inaugurations of former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. At Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, he brought more than 300 underprivileged guests, including homeless people, wounded veterans and victims of domestic abuse, to the celebration, setting them up in hotel rooms and furnishing them with new clothes to attend galas.

Stafford, 72, said he supported Biden early in the Democratic primaries because he was the candidate with the most experience and one that would bring emotional maturity to the White House. 

“We don’t need an emotional president,”  he said. “We need one who’s going to make sage decisions that’s best for our country.”

Though he lives in McLean, Virginia, less than an half-hour drive from where Biden will be sworn in as the 46th U.S. president, Stafford said he plans to watch this inauguration from his couch at home with his wife, Amanda.

replaced with a virtual “Parade Across America,” which will be livestreamed and include performances by comedian Jon Stewart, musical group Earth Wind Fire and performers and speakers across the country.

Julian Johnson drove from Minneapolis to Washington last week to sell inauguration memorabilia. He’s one of only a handful of vendors peddling Biden calendars and Black Lives Matters hats to a light flow of tourists, a stark contrast to the dozens of vendors who lined the National Mall for the pro-Trump rally earlier this month.

Johnson, who is Black, said he plans to be outselling merchandise on Wednesday, too, as long as he doesn’t see any Trump supporters causing trouble. 

“I have my radar on,” he said. “If I spot something that doesn’t feel right, I’m outta here.”

District of Columbia residents Charles and Gina Hall walk past security fencing near the Lincoln Memorial on C Street on Sunday afternoon. The two, wearing Biden/Harris buttons, said they normally walk in the area and wanted to see the security measures in place. The nation's capital is on high-alert with heightened security against threats to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration following the deadly pro-Trump insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Washington residents Charles and Gina Hall walked Sunday along C Street near the Lincoln Memorial, “Biden/Harris” buttons pinned to their jackets. Eight-feet-tall metal fencing blocked access to the nearby National Mall, their usual walking route. National Guard troops from as far away as Florida were manning roadblocks and security, along with local police and uniformed members of the Secret Service. Tourists snapped selfies.

“We walk around here all the time; it’s our normal place,” said Gina Hall, who works in environmental finance. “It’s wild to see.”

Juston Jackson was a 23-year-old student at Grambling State University in Louisiana when he marched with his French Horn at Obama’s 2009 inauguration with the renowned “Tiger Marching Band.” He remembered fondly how his toes went numb in the biting cold and how the crowds brimmed with excitement.  

A souvenir vendor tries to persuade passers-by to visit his store in an underground Metro station on Jan. 19, 2021, in Washington, D.C., as security preparations continue around the Nation's Capitol in preparation for the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Hughes-USA TODAY

Jackson, now 35 and a high school teacher and photographer living near New Orleans, voted for Biden, hoping that the former vice president could restore unity to the nation and undo what he described as the harm the Trump administration has done to the U.S.’ reputation around the world. 

He would have entertained a return-visit to Washington to see the inauguration. But the pandemic precluded him from even considering such a trip. The violence at the Capitol further soured the prospect. On Wednesday, he’ll watch the inauguration from home with his two children, ages 4 and 2 months.

He’s eager to point out to them that Harris is not only the first African Asian woman sworn in as vice president – but the first one to have graduated from a historically Black university, just like their dad. The inauguration’s military presence and the threat of civil unrest won’t detract from that historical moment, he said. 

“It means a lot,” Jackson said. “I got an opportunity to see a historic event and now they can, too.”

Follow Jervis and Hughes on Twitter: @MrRJervis and @TrevorHughes.

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