New York, Washington Mark A. Milley is a soldier through and through. The 62-year-old has dedicated his life to the military and, as Chief of Staff, is something like the highest military in the United States. Like most soldiers, the general from Winchester, Massachusetts, held back from making political statements in public. Alone because it wasn’t right.
But this reluctance has been over since January 6, the memorable day on which supporters of US President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol. Milley and his staff wrote a letter to the armed forces reminding their soldiers that they must defend their constitution.
“Freedom of expression and the right of assembly do not give anyone the right to violence, riot and insurrection,” the statement said. In the US Congress there were scenes that clearly violated the rule of law. It was an “attack on democracy”. They also make it clear that “Joe Biden will be the 46th President of the United States.”
America in a state of emergency – this does not only apply to the political situation because of the second impeachment proceedings, which the Democrats should decide on Wednesday with their majority in the House of Representatives. It also applies to the security situation.
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America’s institutions resemble a fortress in the run-up to Biden’s swearing-in on Wednesday – not just in the capital, but in almost every state in the country. There is great fear that scenes similar to those in the Capitol could take place in many parts of the country on January 20th.
On Tuesday, the FBI and the Justice Department addressed the public in a press conference. According to them, the violence on January 6th could be part of a wide-ranging, well-organized “seditious conspiracy”. There are serious indications of a “consistently high, coordinated threat level” across the country.
Washington is dominated by fear
“This phase of the change of government is unlike anything we have ever experienced, the security situation is extremely precarious,” says Lara Brown, Politics Professor at George Washington University. She was “horrified and dismayed” at the fact that millions of US citizens believe “the conspiracy theories of an outgoing president” – and some of them united in the storming of the Capitol.
In the hours around the impeachment vote, the US Congress is more like Fort Knox than a building that is expressly open to the people. Construction workers have erected concrete barriers, hundreds of National Guard soldiers swarmed in camouflage and armed the Capitol.
Congress members are checked several times with metal detectors on their way to work. Security measures in the rest of the city have also been increased significantly: helicopters are circling, world-famous monuments are locked, the marble tower of the National Monument was closed to visitors after bomb threats.
Even the tourism industry is reacting to the dangerous situation. The accommodation and rental platform Airbnb announced on Wednesday that all reservations in and around Washington would be canceled in the week of inauguration. “Numerous people have been identified among the customers who are either connected to hate groups or otherwise involved in criminal activities in the Capitol. You have been banned from our platform. “
The power change ceremony in one week, in earlier times a symbol of solidarity with the people, is reduced to a minimum in public. The fear is too great.
In Congress in particular, there are fears of new riots or attacks by individual perpetrators. Shortly before the impeachment vote, the congressional police warned the leadership team in the House of Representatives of “retaliation” by Trump supporters. The Senate was also informed about the danger situation, among others from secret service representatives from the Pentagon. “From what we’ve heard, we have serious concerns about persistent and violent threats to our democracy,” a group of Democrats said afterwards. There is a real danger of “fatal attacks by violent extremists”.
The fears are fueled by Republicans in Congress who do not recognize Biden’s victory even after the storming of Congress. Trump also warned on Tuesday that the impeachment was “an enormous danger for our country, it triggers enormous anger”.
This anger is apparently not limited to just the protesting Trump base.
The Joint Chiefs’s concern also concerns how deeply ingrained this anger might be in the US military. As president, Trump had massively increased the military budget and is particularly respected among veterans. There is still speculation in Washington about why the National Guard was so late in approving the assault on the Capitol. According to the Democratic governor of the neighboring state of Maryland, the Pentagon did not give permission for hours to send soldiers to reinforce it.
Up to 15,000 soldiers deployed when Biden was inaugurated
For the moment, the deployment of the soldiers seems to have been clarified, more than a thousand national guards will cordon off the capital by the end of January. But the fear of gaps in the security concept remains. Interior Minister Chad Wolf resigned last week in protest against Trump’s agitation. Ironically, there is a leadership vacuum in the authority that is supposed to protect citizens from terrorism and other threats. In Washington, the security concept is now coordinated by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Otherwise, the authority mainly provides assistance in the event of natural disasters.
The fear of the Trump troops is by no means limited to Washington. Armed protests in front of the capitals of the individual states are expected across the country. There were riots in the capital of the state of New York last week. A pro-Trump demonstration in Albany saw stabbing in front of the Capitol and five people were arrested.
State Street in front of the Capitol is closed to traffic these days, and barricades on the sidewalks are designed to prevent crowding. Dog-escorted state troopers – state police officers – patrol the empty aisles of the Capitol these days. New York has been holding its meetings virtually for a long time because of the pandemic.
In Michigan, the state has banned the carrying of firearms in the Capitol, which is otherwise permitted. In Wisconsin, the National Guards – part of the US military – support the state police. In Georgia, armed guards are already standing outside the Atlanta Capitol during the sessions. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) said it learned of possible armed protests in the coming days. The police are on standby.
In liberal California, too, the security forces in the federal capital Sacramento are preparing for a possible onslaught. “We are all on high alert to make sure everyone is safe” and “that the right to free speech can be exercised but that there is no violence,” said Governor Gavin Newsom.
The danger is real
The Trump troops go out of their way to organize, although Twitter, Facebook & Co. have recently been eagerly trying to block not only Trump’s opinions, but also those of his supporters online. The supporters of the incumbent president are now relying on the Telegram messaging app, among other things.
There participants would share information on how to build bombs and weapons, reports the US broadcaster NBC. Telegram is based in Dubai, the content is barely checked.
The start-up was founded by the Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov. In the past few days, the app recorded the fastest user growth in the company’s seven-year history. From Saturday to Monday alone, the app would have 25 million new users from all over the world, as Durov announced.
The app, which now has more than 500 million active users, also benefits from the fact that users are increasingly turning away from the Facebook subsidiary WhatsApp.
Social media apps such as CloutHub are also recording increasing numbers of downloads. CloutHub, for example, positions itself as a Facebook alternative and adorns itself with the fact that it has won so-called “ambassadors” who regularly post content. Among them is an activist by the stage name Carpe Donktum, who became known for Trump memes and was banned from Twitter in June. The right-wing extremist movement QAnon is also represented there with a group. And BitChute, a video platform, has built a reputation for distributing neo-Nazi videos and conspiratorial content.
The Terror Asymmetrics Project think tank is watching the developments with concern and has already alerted the FBI. “If the users call for murders when it comes to specific actions instead of just sharing information, then the risk level increases,” said the head of the institute, Chris Sampson, on NBC.
Over the past few days, he has observed that the participants are exchanging ideas about where they can best position themselves for the inauguration. Army documents would also be shared via Telegram, including a manual on explosives and demolition, and an entry on how to radicalize Trump supporters and turn them into neo-Nazis.
“Million Militia March” is what Trump’s supporters call their next big action, with which they want to disrupt Biden’s inauguration. Information about this is still being spread on Twitter. “Many of us will return to Washington on January 19th with our weapons,” says a post on Parler, which continues to circulate in a screenshot on Twitter. “We will be so many people that no army and no police authority can counter that.”
Returning to General Milley, the soldier received a surprising phone call late last week. Nancy Pelosi, the majority leader in the House of Representatives who prepared the lawsuit against Trump, was on the line.
The Democrat wanted to find out about the security precautions in connection with the nuclear codes, “in order to prevent an unstable president from sparking military conflicts or calling up the (nuclear) codes and ordering a nuclear strike,” Pelosi later said. Milley assured her that there were security measures in place to prevent this. That has never happened in America either.
More: Second impeachment proceedings: Trump warns of “enormous anger” in the country