Inaugural Security: A Massive Show of Force

Peaceful or merely nonbelligerent?

The inauguration has come and gone without incident. President Joe Biden was sworn in peacefully, just as his 45 predecessors were. None of the craziest QAnon “leaks” came true (No, JFK Jr. is not the Vice President for a second Trump term). The Biden-Harris Administration is buzzing along as I type this, and Executive Orders are already being signed. The military is saluting President Biden as their Commander in Chief, just as they should.

As I watched the ceremony today, I couldn’t help but wonder, though: when a massive, overwhelming show of military force—tens of thousands of soldiers—is in place for an inauguration, is it really a peaceful transition of power or merely nonbelligerent? I suppose that, technically, it was the former: the event was unquestionably peaceful. But didn’t it smack of the sort of scenes we are used to seeing at an inauguration of, say, Daniel Ortega or Muammar Gaddafi? Yes, this event will be peaceful—or else.

Don’t get me wrong: as a security executive who has worked on major events like the the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, I’d selfishly love to have 25,000 trained National Guardspeople at my disposal to ensure a violence-free event. Just the news of such a deployment of personnel is an effective and important deterrent. The Guardspeople performed nobly (despite outrageous and even slanderous comments leveled at them by Rep. Steve Cohen). Governors in just about all 50 states performed ably, making it clear that law enforcement personnel would be deployed in great numbers to counter any ideas people had of repeating the events of January 6 at the local level.

Moreover, of all the things government is charged with doing, none is more essential than national security and public safety. I’m pleased that our leaders made sure that security was sufficient to ensure that the baton could be passed to #46 smoothly and with dignity.

The entire county could exhale when it was all over. Two weeks of understandable concern about protestors staging a repeat of the Capitol building incursion everywhere from D.C. to Providence to Carson City resulted from an FBI internal bulletin stating that "armed protests" were being planned at all 50 state capitols.

Reckless and outrageous hyperbole in the media didn’t help matters. John Brennan, the former head of the CIA, and others peddled fear on TV virtually every night, escalating the idiocy of the behavior of hundreds of protestors in Washington two weeks ago to a massive surge of “militants” who are part of a national epidemic of violent right-wing insurrectionists coming to your hometown soon. One commentator on CNN even referred to the former president as the leader of a terrorist group. And as if that wasn’t enough, Members of Congress were referring to the need to “deprogram” millions of United States citizens.

All of this talk contributed to the massive show of force in Washington and at our state capitals. Our oft-cited peaceful transfer of power is the cornerstone of our democracy, and warrants the most careful security attention. Our gratitude is due to the consortium of federal law enforcement agencies that ensured the ceremony went off without as much as an errant firecracker to interrupt it.

No, it is not our security forces that need to re-evaluate how they do their jobs, it is our citizenry that requires a self-examination about the sort of country we want to be. This show of force was the result of our divisions and our collective animus for divergent opinions. No inaugural address or presidential administration, Democrat or Republican, can fix this, by itself or with the National Guard. Rather, we must seek what Abraham Lincoln struck from the greatest inaugural address ever delivered: a lasting peace among ourselves.