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President Biden Takes Oath of Office Amid Heavy Security

By Jeff Seldin January 20, 2021

The United States peacefully concluded a tense transfer of power Wednesday with newly elected President Joe Biden taking the oath of office on the steps of the U.S. Capitol without incident — just two weeks after the building was overrun by domestic extremists.

The January 6 siege left part of the Capitol building trashed and claimed the lives of five people, including a police officer. It also stirred fears that extremists pledging allegiance to former president Donald Trump might try to stage another takeover to coincide with Biden's inauguration.

Despite what the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had described as "concerning chatter" on social media, those fears failed to manifest into reality.

Officials Wednesday gave some of the credit to the significant security presence in and around Washington.

More than 26,000 National Guard troops from all 50 U.S. states were on hand for the inaugural festivities — more than three times as many as four years ago when Trump was sworn in. Dressed in combat fatigues, many of them armed, they lined the streets of the nation's capital and limited the flow of people and vehicles into the city at various checkpoints.

Around the Capitol, security officials set up a "Green Zone," blocking off parts of the Capitol complex with fencing and barbed wire.

The National Mall — the landscaped park between the Capitol and the Washington Monument — was also closed off. About 200,000 flags representing every U.S. state and territory replaced the crowd that usually gathers to witness an inauguration.

"This is a deterrent," one official told VOA early Wednesday, reviewing the litany of security measures hours before Biden was sworn in as the country's 46th president.

Biden himself noted the security concerns during his inaugural address.

"Here we stand, just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, to drive us from this sacred ground," he told the sparse crowd of about 1,000 invited guests who had been given access to an event often attended by hundreds of thousands of people.

"It did not happen. It will never happen. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever," Biden said.

The day began with a scare — security forces rushed early Wednesday to the U.S. Supreme Court after a reported bomb threat, though they quickly determined there was no actual danger.

And a possible influx of extremists aligned with far-right groups like Boogaloo Boys or Proud Boys never materialized.

Washington's Metropolitan Police Department said while there were some demonstrations, as of mid-afternoon Wednesday, there had been no arrests. Nor did officials report any trouble from the small group of about 100 protesters who had been given permits to demonstrate along Pennsylvania Avenue, which leads to the White House.

In addition to the beefed-up security presence in Washington, state capitals across the country were also on alert after the FBI warned that domestic extremists could cause trouble at courthouses, state houses and other government buildings.

More than 6,900 National Guard troops were sent to 30 states to help keep the peace, officials said.

But across the country, state capitals remained largely quiet. Several major police departments, from Atlanta to Chicago to Madison, Wisconsin, contacted by VOA said they had received no reports of any protest activity related to the inauguration but that they remain on alert.

Officials reported some arrests in the days leading up to Wednesday's inauguration.

Over the weekend, at least three people were arrested near security checkpoints, including a 22-year-old man carrying an unlicensed handgun, and a 63-year-old unarmed woman posing as a law enforcement officer.

In a statement Tuesday, Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen promised the Justice Department and its partners would ensure an "orderly and peaceful transfer of power."

"The Justice Department will have no tolerance for anyone who attempts to mar the day with violence or other criminal conduct," Rosen said. "Anyone who does that will be caught, and they will be prosecuted."

VOA's Masood Farivar contributed to this report.

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