The National Guard is on a 24-hour watch in the US Capitol after last week’s violence, with off-duty members left to catch naps in hallways and below the bust of General George Washington, who led the US to victory in its battle for independence against Britain more than two centuries ago.
Crowds of guard members wearing fatigues and carrying rifles guarded the outside of the building on Wednesday (local time), while others lined the corridors of the Capitol.
The House of Representatives was meeting to consider impeaching President Donald Trump for his role in the January 6 assault on American democracy, when his supporters stormed the building in a deadly rampage.
While National Guard troops have been stationed inside and outside the seat of Congress since at least Friday, earlier they had not been armed with rifles.
Now, some of the 20,000 National Guard troops ordered to Washington to secure the city before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20 have weapons in hand. Riot shields and gas masks are piled in the hallways.
New fencing and other security measures have also gone up around the building that is seen by many as an important global symbol of democracy. A two-metre high fence has been erected around the Capitol, with metal barriers and National Guard troops protecting the congressional office buildings that surround it.
“The attack on the Capitol was a violent insurrection that resulted in the spilling of American blood,” said US Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat from New York.
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“That’s why extraordinary security measures have been taken.
“Officers were brutally beaten. The attackers wanted to assassinate Nancy Pelosi, hang Mike Pence, and hunt down sitting members of Congress. That’s insurrection. That’s sedition. That’s lawlessness. That’s terror,” Mr Jeffries said.
National Guard troops have been frequently used by states in helping law enforcement forces quell protests in the past year. However, the decision to arm them with guns highlights fears at the threat of further violence in the days before Mr Biden’s inauguration.
Officials have said it is important for the troops to be armed for their self defence and that they are still in a support role of law enforcement forces.
Airbnb cancels Washington bookings
Airbnb has been cancelling home-sharing reservations in the Washington, DC area for the week of the inauguration after law enforcement warned of a threat from armed militias.
It said it made the decision after consulting local and federal officials and after some hosts worried about potential attacks sought to cancel bookings.
“We are aware of reports emerging yesterday afternoon regarding armed militias and known hate groups that are attempting to travel and disrupt the inauguration,” Airbnb said on Wednesday.
The company did not comment on specific instances and said it did not see evidence on its platform of guests planning protests and attacks.
Critics of last week’s attack on the US Capitol have asked hotels to cancel bookings during inauguration week to prevent further attacks. But major chains Hilton Worldwide Holdings and Marriott International said they planned to uphold existing reservations.
“Our hotels in the DC area will remain open leading up to and through the inauguration. We, of course, have the safety of our guests and associates top of mind given the recent events. We are monitoring the situation very closely and have operational and security plans in place,” Marriott said.
Airbnb has banned some individuals found to have ties with hate groups or who were involved in last week’s deadly storming of the US Capitol.