SECURITY is being increased in preparation for the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States at the Capitol in Washington, on Wednesday.
The city remains on high alert after the Capitol Building was stormed by thousands of supporters of the former President Donald Trump, on 6 January. Congress had been meeting to certify the votes of the Electoral College and confirm Biden’s victory (News, 8 January). Mr Trump has been accused of encouraging the protests in an attempt to overturn his defeat in the presidential election. Five people died in the violence.
Episcopalian bishops in the US, led by the Presiding Bishop, the Most Revd Michael Curry, called for Mr Trump’s immediate removal from office (News, 15 January). Mr Trump was later impeached, but has yet to stand trial.
A group of 13 Episcopalian bishops, mainly from Midwestern regions, has urged people not to participate in public demonstrations. The bishops expressed concern over FBI warnings that armed protests were being planned in Washington, and all 50 state capitals, in the run-up to the inauguration. They wrote last week: “Between now and Inauguration Day, we can best follow our vocation to be peacemakers by staying away from places where harm could come to God’s people.”
On Sunday, small groups of protesters, some of them armed, gathered at statehouses across the US, but they were outnumbered by security enforcement and no clashes were reported. All 50 states remain on high alert for armed protests this week.
Washington city centre has been locked down in anticipation of disruption to the inauguration ceremony: streets have been blockaded, high fencing has been installed, and 25,000 National Guard troops and other law enforcement officers have been stationed in the area. These personnel are also being vetted by the FBI amid fears of an internal security threat to the ceremony.
The increased security threat and soaring coronavirus cases in the country mean that the usual festival services and celebratory events have been paired down. An inaugural prayer service is still due to be held in Washington National Cathedral, however, which has also been offering brief online prayers for the nation on its website for the past two weeks.
The Canon to the Presiding Bishop for ministry beyond the Episcopal Church, the Revd Charles Robertson, told the Episcopal News Service last week: “From the beginnings of our country, while we have had a separation of Church and state, faith communities have been integral in working with governments on any number of projects and programs. And the Episcopal Church in particular, from the start, has taken seriously our responsibility to do what we can. And never is that more important than in a time of transition.”
Roman Catholic bishops in the US have also called for a peaceful transition of power this week, recalling the example of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, whose life and achievements were honoured at a commemorative service on Monday.
The President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Archbishop of Los Angeles, the Most Revd José H. Gomez, said: “This year as we commemorate the legacy of this great American, we remember especially Rev. King’s belief in nonviolence and the power of love.
“As we witnessed in the violence in our cities last summer and in the violence that broke out again last week at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., our country has become too angry, too bitter, and too divided. . . We ask our Blessed Mother Mary, the Queen of Peace, to guide us in this moment of transition and uncertainty in our country.”
Marking the start of a week of celebrations of Dr King Jr’s life and legacy, on Monday, Pope Francis said: “In today’s world, which increasingly faces the challenges of social injustice, division and conflict that hinder the realisation of the common good, Dr King’s dream of harmony and equality for all people, attained through nonviolent and peaceful means, remains ever timely.”