Americans have been told to stay home for Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony, but the capital is far from empty. The presence of thousands of troops, and even more flags, has set the stage for a highly unusual Inauguration Day.
Hours before he is set to become the 46th president of the United States of America, Biden hosted a ceremony on Tuesday night to commemorate the 400,000 US deaths linked to Covid-19. The somber event featured a row of candles that lined the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial, prompting CNN to gush that the lights were “extensions of Joe Biden’s arms embracing America.”
But at a time of profound political disunity, the surreal scenes in downtown DC seem to only reinforce feelings of deep division and pathological paranoia spreading across the country.
Last week, the Secret Service announced that it was creating a Baghdad-like ‘Green Zone’ in the capital, apparently in response to alleged threats posed by right-wing extremists.
The vast security perimeter, featuring concrete barricades, razor-wire fences, walls, and military humvees, is guarded by more than 20,000 National Guard troops. With their tour of duty in the capital nearing its end, soldiers were photographed patrolling the streets around the National Mall, manning security checkpoints, and when possible, resting on the grass near the Capitol.
The militarized zone, which encompasses basically the entire downtown area, stretching from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol Building, has created a sense of looming danger to Wednesday’s proceedings. Judging by the images of the citizen soldiers guarding the daunting security perimeter, many seem bored and are ready to go home.
But the conspicuous presence of the military is far from the only thing that will make Biden’s swearing-in ceremony unorthodox. With the National Mall closed to the public, Biden’s inaugural committee decided to install nearly 200,000 American flags, some of them bearing the emblems of US states and territories. Dubbed the ‘Field of Flags’, the art display was designed to represent the thousands of citizens who will be unable to attend the inauguration. On Tuesday night, the ‘field’ was illuminated with 56 pillars of light, symbolizing all 50 states and US territories.
Photographs show the Mall covered in a sea of banners, with some observers noting that aerial views of the flags show stripes of colors that, at least in one section, resemble the Russian flag.
I don’t know if the Biden administration is aware of this.
But this is the Russian flag. 🇷🇺
No joke. pic.twitter.com/SKPSq8vgLr
— Mr Reagan 🇺🇸 (@MrReaganUSA) January 20, 2021
Still, some Inauguration Day traditions appear to have slipped through the barbed-wire fences. An enthusiastic Biden supporter was photographed by Reuters zooming around on a longboard as he proudly waved a Biden/Harris flag.
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