Americans were already being asked to watch the ceremony from home instead of attending in person due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month — along with reports that more armed protests and violence are being planned — has led to enhanced security in Washington along with the public health measures.
Making it even more unusual, the outgoing president has said he will not be in attendance for the first time in more than 150 years.
Here’s what to expect for what will truly be a historic and tense start to the Biden-Harris administration.
While people aren’t being barred from attending the inauguration, Biden and his team have been urging Americans to watch from home due to the pandemic.
Events typically held for past inaugurations, like the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue and the inaugural balls, will be held in a virtual format. Biden’s inaugural team has said the events will be similar to last summer’s all-virtual Democratic National Convention.
The Biden Inaugural Committee has announced it will be streaming the swearing-in ceremony and other events on its website as well as its YouTube and Twitch platforms, in addition to the traditional television broadcasts. Global News will also livestream the ceremonies, along with a liveblog covering events as they unfold.
The committee has announced plans for a major public art display spanning multiple blocks of the National Mall that will feature 191,500 U.S. flags and 56 pillars of light, to represent every U.S. state and territory. The flags are meant to represent “the American people who are unable to travel” to the Capitol to celebrate his swearing-in, according to the committee.
In the past, lawmakers in Washington have been given 200,000 tickets to hand out to their constituents to attend the ceremony. This year, members of Congress will only receive two tickets each: one for themselves, and the other for a guest.
After supporters of President Donald Trump violently stormed the Capitol building on Jan. 6, law enforcement officials have warned of further armed protests being planned in the coming days, including on inauguration day.
On Friday, the National Park Service announced it will be closing the National Mall — the long public area that stretches from the Capitol where audiences typically gather for inaugurations. No public facilities or TV screens will be erected on the mall for spectators, officials said.
The National Park Service said Monday it will be closing the Washington Monument through Jan. 24 “in response to credible threats to visitors and park resources.”
The FBI last week warned of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitals and in Washington in the days leading up to Jan. 20.
Law enforcement officials told The Associated Press and other American media outlets that the protests in the capital, which will include members of some extremist groups, may start Jan. 17 and go through to “at least 20 January.” Protests across the country may start a day earlier, on Jan. 16, and go beyond the inauguration, they said.
Federal law enforcement agencies have been issuing urgent calls for assistance to secure the capital ahead of the inauguration, according to multiple reports this week, as online chatter among Trump supporters moves toward planning further attacks.
“It has begun to shift from ‘We are going to win this’ to ‘This fight is going to be a long one,'” Rita Katz, executive director of online extremist monitor SITE Intelligence Group, told the Washington Post Thursday. She added the “prevalent consensus” among those involved in or supportive of the Capitol riot “is that they will keep pushing forward.”
FBI Director Chris Wray says his agency is tracking an “extensive amount of concerning online chatter” about planned armed protests, and has been sending that information to agencies in D.C. and across the country.
The National Guard said Thursday it has authorized up to 21,000 troops to help provide security during the inauguration, the most ever deployed to the capital.
About 7,000 troops are already on the ground in Washington, the service added, with many stationed inside the Capitol building for the first time since the Civil War.
Airbnb has also been cancelling home-sharing reservations in the Washington D.C. area for the week of the inauguration, while airlines are stepping up screenings and other security protocols.
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser has asked federal officials to not grant permits for group gatherings in an effort to limit protests before and during the inauguration. The city has also asked businesses to post flyers that say firearms are “not welcome on these premises.”
Biden, who has been regularly briefed on the growing threats of violence, has dismissed calls to move the inauguration inside due to the security concerns.
“I’m not afraid of taking the oath outside,” Biden told reporters Monday. “It is critically important that there’ll be a real serious focus on holding those folks who engaged in sedition and threatening lives, defacing public property, caused great damage — that they be held accountable.”
Only two inaugurations in modern history have been moved indoors, but only due to extreme weather conditions.
On Wednesday, Trump — who has signed an emergency declaration for Washington to allow federal resources to help with security — released a video calling on his supporters to remain calm and not pursue further violence.
“No true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence. No true supporter of mine could ever disrespect law enforcement or our great American flag. No true supporter of mine could ever threaten or harass their fellow Americans,” he said.
Who will attend?
Trump announced in one of his last-ever tweets last week that he would not attend Biden’s inauguration, making him the first president since Andrew Johnson in 1869 to skip his successor’s swearing-in.
Biden said he was just fine with that, calling Trump’s decision “one of the few things we have ever agreed on.”
“It’s a good thing, him not showing up,” he added, calling the president an “embarrassment” to the nation and unworthy of the office.
Biden has, however, accepted outgoing Vice-President Mike Pence’s offer to attend, saying he would be “honoured.”
In the past, the incoming and outgoing presidents traditionally travel together to the inauguration, a symbolic acknowledgment of the peaceful transfer of power.
Former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton will all attend along with their spouses. Jimmy Carter, the oldest living former president at 96, has announced he and his wife will not attend but wished Biden and Harris well.
What can viewers expect?
Despite the scaled-down ceremony in Washington, viewers are still being promised a slew of musical performances and celebrity appearances across several inauguration-related events.
Lady Gaga will perform the national anthem, while Jennifer Lopez will also deliver a musical performance at the Capitol where Biden and Harris will be sworn in.
Rev. Leo O’Donovan will give the invocation, while the Pledge of Allegiance will be led by Andrea Hall, a firefighter from Georgia. There will be a poetry reading from Amanda Gorman, the first national youth poet laureate, and the benediction will be given by Rev. Silvester Beaman of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Delaware.
A 90-minute special airing the evening of Jan. 20, “Celebrating America,” will feature Tom Hanks, Justin Timberlake, Demi Lovato and several other Hollywood figures.