U.S. Capitol steps up security as Congress assesses impeachment


Federal and local officials significantly tighten security to avoid a repeat of last week deadly riot which killed five people before the inauguration of Joe Biden.

Members of the US National Guard were seen sleeping in the hallways of the Capitol building, which they guarded around the clock, marking the first time that the US Democracy Headquarters has been used as a barracks since the Civil War.

Law enforcement and the National Guard are also in place to protect members of Congress, who are launching an unprecedented second impeachment effort after accusing Donald Trump of inciting the violence that erupted in the heart of the capital.

Several lawmakers have described fleeing for their lives last Wednesday as pro-Trump rioters stormed the halls of their workplaces as Congress moved to vote on Mr. Biden’s certification. presidential election victory. Five people, including a Capitol police officer, died.

The events led to several resignations of senior officials in charge of security at the Capitol complex, and a bipartisan group of leaders across Washington called for an investigation into how law enforcement failed to stop rioters despite several warnings of a potential threat.

Members of the National Guard rest in place while guarding the Capitol © AFP via Getty Images

In the aftermath of the rampage, the Washington DC National Guard also confirmed that its men and women would be armed after clearance from the Pentagon at the request of federal authorities, a spokesperson said.

Mark Cancian, a National Guard expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that while arming the National Guard was not unusual, it was rare for them to serve in an armed capacity in Washington. Mr Cancian said they had not done so “for a long time”, probably not since the riots of the late 1960s.

A Washington DC National Guard spokesperson said staff were housed when off duty, but the Capitol had been designated as a place for forces to rest and sleep during the 24 hour operation.

New metal detectors were also placed at the entrance to the House chamber, prompting some members of Congress to refuse.

Robert Contee, District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Chief, said that “you can expect to see over 20,000” members of the National Guard somewhere in Washington for the inauguration next week. “It’s a major security threat,” he said.

Over the past week, the Department of Justice has accused more than 70 people as federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, have said they are moving as fast as possible on an “unprecedented” investigation to catch those involved in the shooting. assault on the US Capitol.

The FBI is seeking information on Trump supporters who participated in the rampage on Capitol Hill © Eric Baradat / AFP / Getty

Those arrested and charged to date include gunmen who have threatened to kill Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House; Muriel Bowser, Democratic Mayor of Washington; and Mr. Biden. The FBI has set up a separate team to investigate threats made against journalists.

Many of those arrested have been charged with carrying illegal firearms. Prosecutors said charges of sedition and conspiracy could be continued.

On Tuesday, Washington’s senior federal prosecutor Michael Sherwin confirmed that the homemade bombs found outside the headquarters of the Republican and Democratic National Committees near the Capitol in Washington were “real devices” that could have exploded.

U.S. officials said they identified around 170 people they were investigating for potential crimes.

Amid fears of further unrest in the days leading up to Mr Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday next week, many US state capitals are stepping up security, while parts of Washington have already been on lockdown.

In a video statement released Tuesday evening, Jeffrey Rosen, the acting US attorney general, warned prosecutors would have “no tolerance for any attempt to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power on January 20 that our constitution calls for.”

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