Washington turned into a virtual fortress on Thursday ahead of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, with police ready to step into separate protesters from Trump supporters at any sign of unrest.
Some 900,000 people, both Trump backers and opponents, are expected to flood Washington for Friday’s inauguration ceremony, according to organisers’ estimates. Events include the swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the US Capitol and a parade to the White House along streets thronged with spectators.
The number of planned protests and rallies this year is far above what has been typical at recent presidential inaugurations, with some 30 permits granted in Washington for anti-Trump rallies and sympathy protests planned in cities from Boston to Los Angeles, and abroad in cities including London and Sydney.
The night before the inauguration, hundreds of people turned out in New York for a protest at the Trump International Hotel and Tower, a few blocks from the Trump Tower where the businessman lives.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, and actor Alec Baldwin, who parodies Trump on “Saturday Night Live” were set to speak at a rally condemning Trump’s policies.
“Donald Trump may control Washington, but we control our destiny as Americans,” de Blasio said. “We don’t fear the future. We think the future is bright if the people’s voices are heard.”
In Washington, police cars lined much of Pennsylvania Avenue, the parade route, as workers unloaded crowd control fences from flatbed trucks, erected barricades and marked off pavement with tape.
US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said police aimed to keep groups separate, using tactics similar to those employed during last year’s political conventions.
“The concern is some of these groups are pro-Trump, some of them are con-Trump, and they may not play well together in the same space,” Johnson said on MSNBC.
Trump opponents have been angered by his comments during the campaign about women, illegal immigrants and Muslims and his pledges to scrap the Obamacare health reform and build a wall on the Mexican border.
The Republican’s supporters admire his experience in business, including as a real estate developer and reality television star, and view him as an outsider who will take a fresh approach to politics.
Bikers for Trump, a group that designated itself as security backup during last summer’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, is ready to step in if protesters block access to the inauguration, said Dennis Egbert, one of the group’s organisers.
“We’re going to be backing up law enforcement. We’re on the same page,” Egbert, 63, a retired electrician from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.