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Secret Service launches massive security operation to protect Biden inauguration

WASHINGTON — The Secret Service and federal law enforcement agencies are spending the final days of the Trump administration bracing for a possible violent assault against the Jan. 20 inauguration, launching a security mobilization that will be unlike any in modern US history.

On Wednesday, the Secret Service will take command of security preparations at the US Capitol and other federal buildings, backed by as many as 20,000 National Guard troops, thousands of police and tactical officers, and layers of eight-foot steel fencing.

The high-alert security posture is starting six days earlier than planned to coordinate roles for the FBI, National Guard, US Marshals Service, and a host of other federal agencies that will fall under Secret Service command.

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’'Everyone can just rest assured they are throwing the kitchen sink at this event,’' said one Secret Service official involved in protective planning who was not authorized to speak to reporters.

The accelerated timetable has also allowed authorities to fortify the city and deploy officers in anticipation of potential violence on Sunday, when pro-Trump groups are calling for armed marches in Washington and the 50 state capitals.

Veteran Secret Service and Homeland Security officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share their worries described a level of concern unlike anything in their careers. Threats they fear include a plot by armed groups to encircle the White House or the US Capitol and the inauguration event, as well as the possibility that gunmen could stage coordinated attacks against less-fortified targets in the city.

House Democrats were briefed by the new Capitol Police leadership Monday night about threats to the inauguration from groups supporting President Trump, and the new security measures they are putting in place to avoid a repeat of last Wednesday’s riot.

According to members who were on the briefing call, the threats included promises to execute members of Congress, with the most dangerous coming from a handful of extremist groups. They are surfacing amid calls for a million ’'MAGA’' devotees to flood Washington.

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On Tuesday, police in the Chicago suburbs arrested 45-year-old Louis Capriotti, charging him with making threats to lawmakers last year in which authorities say he promised to kill any Democrat who attempted to enter the White House on Inauguration Day.

If people ’'think that Joe Biden is going to put his hand on the Bible and walk into that . . . White House on January 20th, they’re sadly . . . mistaken,’' he told one member of Congress in an expletive-laden phone message, according to a criminal complaint. ’'We will surround the . . . White House and we will kill any . . . Democrat that steps on the . . . lawn.’'

Representative Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat, said in an interview that the threats are real but will not stop the transfer of power.

’'We’re not talking about a 90-person ISIS cell. . . . We’re talking mainly about a bunch of yahoos who, yes, are very dangerous. People could wind up dead,’' Himes said. ’'But there’s no danger that they’re going to overthrow the United States government.’'

The sweep of the heightened security was illustrated by the decision of the House sergeant at arms to use metal detectors to screen everyone entering the House chamber, including members.

The siege at the Capitol has put Secret Service planners and their federal partners in feverish reassessment mode to consider all the ways they can mitigate anything like a repeat of Jan. 6 — or something worse.

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Starting Wednesday, the nerve center for coordinating inauguration security and locking down the District was the Secret Service’s Washington field office. Known as the MACC, the Multi-Agency Command Center will bring together representatives from 50 to 60 agencies or private companies for the next eight days, everyone from heavyweight players like the FBI and the Defense Department to the gas company, rail company CSX, and Amtrak. Most personnel will work in 12-hour shifts.

’'Unlike Jan. 6, nobody has to ask for the National Guard anymore,’' said one former Secret Service official who helped coordinate past inaugurations. ’'Nobody has to send out an emergency call for the FBI SWAT team. They’re all there, pre-positioned and ready.’'

’'It’s no longer game planning,’' the former official added. ’'Radiation protection. Bomb detectors. Amtrak sweeps. All the security personnel — they’re all now in place.’'

The Secret Service will coordinate all security decisions, including how to seal the Capitol, how to control the flow of demonstrations, which Metro stations are shuttered, and which roads are blocked. But the Secret Service, a relatively tiny agency in the federal government, will rely heavily on the muscle and expertise of its partners. It will look to the FBI, for instance, for intelligence-gathering, and the National Guard, Park Police, and D.C. police, as well as many other local police departments, to set up roadblocks, patrol security perimeters along the inauguration route and help shield the Capitol and White House.

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The Secret Service has overseen all national security special events since President Bill Clinton signed a presidential declaration in 1998 putting the agency in charge of all major gatherings that might be a target for terrorists. These have included Super Bowls, summits of world leaders, meetings of international organizations, presidential conventions and, of course, inaugurations.

One worry is that pro-Trump groups seeking permits for protests downtown include people who joined the riot on Jan. 6 at the Capitol and conducted some of their planning on encrypted apps.

Researchers are finding that right-wing extremists of all stripes have migrated to the encrypted messaging app Telegram, especially since social media site Parler was forced off the Internet when its cloud provider, Amazon, dropped it Monday. They’re sharing diagrams on how to mount an ambush, talking about mobilizing on the days leading up to Inauguration Day and are posting messages exhorting people to ’'descend on DC’' and ’'stick to your guns,’' said Chris Sampson, chief of research at the Terror Asymmetrics Project on Strategy, Tactics and Radical Ideologies, a defense research institute. Sampson said he has flagged some of these posts to intermediaries who get them to the FBI. The migration to Telegram was first reported by NBC.

One pro-Trump group has applied to the National Park Service for a permit to protest in front of the White House. The Park Service, working with the Secret Service, will need to decide whether to reject those permit applications or determine a way for those protesters to be corralled and blocked from threatening the Capitol or White House.

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