U.S. National Guard troops, many wearing combat fatigues and some carrying weapons, are lining the streets of Washington as the United States prepares to swear in the country's 46th president.
In all, about 25,000 of the part-time troops from all 50 states, backed by a heavy police presence, have been called to duty in what has become an unprecedented show of force, meant to bolster security and repel possible violence by extremists unhappy with the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.
"This is a deterrent," one official told VOA early Wednesday, hours before President-elect Joe Biden was set to take the oath of office.
For days, security officials have been warning of what they described as "concerning chatter" on social media, with suspected domestic extremists threatening members of Congress, or even calling for a repeat of the January 6 riot and siege of the U.S. Capitol building that left five people dead.
"We're tracking calls for potential armed protests and activity leading up to the inauguration," FBI Director Christopher Wray warned last week. "We're concerned about the potential for violence at multiple protests and rallies planned here in (Washington)."
The U.S. Secret Service, normally charged with protecting the president, was more specific, raising concerns that far-right groups like the Boogaloo Boys or Proud Boys might seek to cause trouble.
"I don't know if anyone has raised their hand to say, 'We are coming. We will be there.' but we are preparing as if they are," Matt Miller, the agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service Washington Field Office, told reporters.
Further heightening tensions, security forces responded to the U.S. Supreme Court early Wednesday after a reported bomb threat, though they quickly determined there was no actual threat.
Ahead of the inauguration, police and National Guard troops helped erect fencing around the Capitol complex, complete with barbed wire, to keep any would-be instigators at bay.
Checkpoints also went up around Washington, with the Secret Service establishing its own "Green Zone."
Even those assigned to protect the Capitol have come under intense scrutiny.
The National Guard on Tuesday confirmed 12 of its members had been pulled from security details after increased vetting turned up questions about their behavior, and in a couple of cases, potential ties to extremist groups.
"We're not taking any chances," Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters.
Typically, hundreds of thousands of spectators fill up the National Mall - the landscaped park between the Capitol and the Washington Monument - on Inauguration Day. This year, about 200,000 flags representing every U.S. state and territory have been planted on the Mall in lieu of the spectators, and roughly 1,000 invited guests - mostly members of Congress and other dignitaries - will attend the swearing-in ceremony.
Some protesters have also shown up in Washington.
Officials said Friday that permits had been approved for two protests along Pennsylvania Avenue, which leads to the White House. But they said the protests would be limited to about 100 people, who would have to go through metal detectors and be escorted by police.
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."
Moreover, he said, federal, state and local law enforcement are providing security for state capitals and government buildings in all 50 states.
"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."
The beefed-up security for Wednesday's inauguration stands in sharp contrast to the presidential inauguration four years ago, when 8,000 National Guard troops were called in to help as Donald Trump was sworn in.