WASHINGTON -- By the busload and planeload, National Guard troops were pouring into the nation's capital Saturday, as governors answered the urgent pleas of U.S. defense officials for more troops to help safeguard Washington even as states face the possibility of violent protests.
Military leaders spent parts of Thursday evening and Friday calling states in an unprecedented appeal for more National Guard troops to help lock down much of the city in the days before President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration. In dribs and drabs, governors responded, with some agreeing to send an extra dozen, 100 or even 1,000, while others said no.
On Friday, the U.S. Capitol Police arrested a man at a security checkpoint in Washington after he flashed an "unauthorized" inauguration credential and a search of his truck yielded an unregistered handgun and more than 500 rounds of ammunition, authorities said.
Nationwide, state capitols locked down Saturday, with windows boarded up, Guard troops deployed and states of emergency preemptively declared.
The calls for more Guard troops in Washington, D.C., reflect fears that violent extremist groups are targeting the city in the wake of the deadly insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6. The threats include armed insurgents and possible attempts to plant explosive devices at so-called soft targets. But as Washington begins to resemble an armed camp, with more than 25,000 Guard troops due in the city by early this week, concerns about violence in state capitals has also grown.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said she turned down the federal request to send at least 100 more National Guard troops to Washington. "I didn't think that we could safely fill that commitment," Brown said. Oregon has already agreed to send 30 troops to Washington, but Oregon leaders are worried about violence at the state Capitol in Salem.
Others agreed to the requests, setting off a torrent of military flights and convoys into the Washington area.
"The peaceful transfer of power is a central tenet of American democracy, and Connecticut stands ready to aid in the protection of our country," said Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, who initially approved sending 100 Guard troops and Friday agreed to send 200 more.
All told, more than 130 Air National Guard flights in the past 72 hours have carried at least 7,000 Guard troops to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, according to U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal numbers. Thousands more are in buses and military trucks, thundering up highways toward Washington.
Army Gen. Dan Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, called adjutants general around the country, and others, such as Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, called governors to seek help. McCarthy praised the states, saying defense and military officials are keenly aware of the threats they, too, are facing.
"They helped us a lot," McCarthy said. "That's the thing -- that in the midst of a really horrible situation, you're seeing the greatness of this country, everybody coming together and help each other get through this."
What began in early January as a routine deployment of about 350 members of the D.C. National Guard to help with expected protests exploded over the past two weeks into a vastly greater operation to protect the inauguration and the Capitol, and to shut down access to the city and many of its historical monuments.
As protesters stampeded their way into the Capitol on Jan. 6, slightly more than 100 National Guard members were scattered around the city, guarding checkpoints and Metro entrances. Hours later, the Capitol was in shambles and all 1,100 of the city's Guard troops had been activated.
By the next day, as information came in about more violence being planned, requests went out for 6,200 Guard members from the surrounding states.
By Thursday night, as law enforcement and defense officials pored over maps and staged security drills, they concluded they would need at least 25,000 to adequately lock down the Capitol grounds and a wide swath of Washington, including the National Mall. And they agreed that the bulk of those Guard troops will be armed.
At that point, the new round of calls to the state governors and military leaders began.
Many governors were willing to help, but they made it clear that their own state capitals were their priority. Some agreed to send more, while others said they couldn't. And the numbers varied widely.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf doubled his initial commitment of 1,000, sending 2,000. Other states were able to scrape up an additional dozen.
After reviewing the threats to its own state, Minnesota decided it could significantly increase its contribution and will send 850 Guard troops rather than the 130 initially tapped to go, according to the state's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Shawn Manke.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine had already agreed to send 700. On Friday, he announced he'd be sending 300 more -- even as he ordered nearly 600 to secure the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. Similarly, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper initially agreed to send 200 Guard members, and on Friday spokesman Ford Porter said the state will send 100 more. Iowa first said it was sending 250, and now the number is 265.
The vast military response comes as Congress and law enforcement authorities are trying to figure out how the Capitol was overrun so dramatically. Leaders of four committees in the Democratic-controlled House sent a letter Saturday requesting briefings and documents from the FBI and other federal agencies as part of their review of the insurrection.
The appeals for more of America's citizen soldiers also underscore the Pentagon's limits on the use of active-duty troops. Under the law, they can't be used for law enforcement, and officials are intent on avoiding the appearance of armed active-duty forces being used against U.S. citizens on American soil.
Active-duty forces are routinely prepared to respond to emergencies in Washington, such as flight violations in restricted airspace, and a quick-reaction force is always on standby. Other active-duty units will take part in various inaugural ceremonies.
The man arrested Friday evening is a contractor, and the credential was not fake, according to a federal law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the arrest.
Wesley A. Beeler of Front Royal, Va., had driven up to a security checkpoint less than half a mile from the Capitol grounds and presented "an unauthorized inauguration credential," according to a statement from a Capitol Police officer filed in a District of Columbia court Saturday. The officer, Roger Dupont, said he had checked the credential against a list and that he found the man's credential did not give him the authority to enter the restricted area.
Officers searched his truck, which had several gun-related bumper stickers, and found a loaded Glock pistol, 509 rounds for the pistol -- including hollow-point bullets -- and 21 shotgun shells, police said. Beeler had admitted having the Glock in the truck's center console when he was asked if there were weapons in the car, they said.
Beeler, who could not be reached for comment, was charged with five crimes, including possessing an unregistered weapon and ammunition in Washington. The documents filed in court and an incident report from the city's Metropolitan Police Department do not shed light on why the man would have tried to access a restricted area, nor do they provide more details about the credential the police say he presented.
The extraordinary show of security at statehouses that are normally lightly guarded reflected the anxious state of the country ahead of planned demonstrations. It came just days before the presidential inauguration, an event normally rich with pageantry but one that this year has become a possible pretext for insurrection.
Yet even as security forces conspicuously raised their profile in cities far from the nation's capital, the exact nature of the threat remained fluid. Officials acknowledged they did not know what form the next burst of right-wing extremist, white-supremacist, anti-government grievance might take -- or where it might strike.
"We're prepared that if two people show up, we'll handle that. We're prepared if thousands of people show up, we'll handle that as well," Michigan State Police First Lt. Michael Shaw said as he stood on the grounds of the Victorian-era Capitol building in Lansing.
The Capitol, with its cast-iron dome and spire, was surrounded by temporary barricades that officials said could stay up for weeks. Across the street, the windows of the George W. Romney Building, home to the governor's office, were boarded up. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, the target of a foiled kidnapping plot last year, had called in the National Guard on Friday, and the Legislature had canceled its session for this week, citing "credible threats."
"We hope everyone stays safe and respects the peaceful transition of power," state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Speaker of the House Jason Wentworth, both Republicans, said in a statement.
Not every state was taking such robust precautions. In some capital cities, authorities said they had placed extra security forces on standby while leaving their public profile much the same.
"There's been no critical intelligence that something is brewing," Idaho National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Borders said.
Yet in many other places, authorities were gearing up for trouble -- even if they didn't know exactly how it might look.
The FBI issued a bulletin Monday warning that far-right groups were planning to march on state capitals this weekend. Scattered protests Saturday were quiet and peaceful. Today, however, is the day that several well-known extremist groups had identified as the moment to show their nationwide strength.
Whether they follow through is an open question. In recent days, several groups have recanted their call for demonstrations, urging supporters to stay far away, either out of deference to appeals for calm from President Donald Trump or fears of what some have deemed a law enforcement trap.
Experts said those decisions, plus the deterrent effect of the aggressive security response, may be enough to avoid a repeat of the chaos at the U.S. Capitol, at least for now.
"Hopefully it will be very quiet over the next three or four days," said Alexandra Minna Stern, a professor of history, American culture, and women's and gender studies at the University of Michigan who studies the state's far right. "After that, though, these groups aren't going away."
And even if some of the better-known national organizations -- such as the Proud Boys -- say they don't intend to participate in demonstrations today, some more-localized groups may.
Such organizations have proliferated recently, said Alexander Reid Ross, an adjunct professor at Portland State University and a research fellow at the Center for the Analysis of the Radical Right. And it could be a recipe for problems in capitals such as Austin, Texas; Denver; and Sacramento, Calif.
"A lot of places that have very liberal metropolitan areas and very conservative outlying areas have tended to accumulate more far-right militant groups, especially last year to this year," Ross said. "These are white males, Generation X and millennials who feel like their access to white privileges are slipping a little bit, and the country is no longer made in their image."
Anger over the allegations of a stolen presidential election has added to the discontent. Some who stormed the Capitol this month were also motivated by a backlash against coronavirus restrictions.
In Ohio, where the governor has pursued an aggressive strategy to contain the pandemic, authorities said they are expecting a rally by the "boogaloo boys," an organization of armed, far-right extremists.
The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus was ringed with temporary metal fencing and signs that say "Security Line Do Not Cross" on Saturday. Its first-floor windows were boarded up, and beneath its immense Doric columns, state Highway Patrol troopers walked the porticoes. The plan was to keep the building closed through Wednesday.
"We don't really know what's going to happen, but we want to be prepared," said a man boarding up the windows of a nearby pizza parlor, OH Pizza and Brew.
DeWine, a Republican, said as he authorized the use of the National Guard that the aim was to prevent a repeat of the incident in Washington.
"We were horrified by what we saw take place in the Capitol last week," he said. "Violence will not be tolerated."
All federal prisons in the United States have been placed on lockdown, with officials aiming to quell any violence that could arise behind bars as law enforcement authorities prepare for potentially violent protests across the country in the run-up to Wednesday's inauguration.
The action comes as the federal Bureau of Prisons moves some of its Special Operations Response Teams to Washington to bolster security there.
The lockdown at more than 120 facilities took effect early Saturday, according to an email to employees from the president of the union representing federal correctional officers.
"In light of current events occurring around the country, and out of an abundance of caution, the decision has been made to secure all institutions," the Bureau of Prisons said in a statement.
The lockdown decision is precautionary, no specific information led to it, and it is not in response to any significant events occurring in any facilities, the bureau said.
To avoid backlash from inmates, the move was not announced until after they were locked in their cells Friday evening.
Shane Fausey, president of the Council of Prison Locals, wrote in his email to staffs that inmates should still be given access in small groups to showers, phones and email and can still be involved in preparing food and performing basic maintenance.
The agency last implemented a nationwide lockdown in April to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Information for this article was contributed by Lolita C. Baldor, Andrew Selsky, Susan Haigh, Farnoush Amiri, Gary Robertson, Steve Karnowski, David Pitt, Mark Scolforo, Michael R. Sisak and Michael Balsamo of The Associated Press; by Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Katie Benner of The New York Times; and by Griff Witte, Tim Craig, Peter Whoriskey, Kayla Ruble, Arelis R. Hernandez, Eva Ruth Moravec, Rachel Lerman, Matthew LaPlante, Holly Bailey, Scott Wilson, Maria Sacchetti, Kathy Lynn Gray, Amy Worden, Jane Gottlieb, Dan Simmons, Carissa Wolf, Jeremy Borden, Jennifer Oldham, Robert Klemko, Jay Greene, Haisten Willis and Austyn Gaffney of The Washington Post.