Watch CBS News

Security challenges as a new president is sworn in

Heightened security for the Biden inauguration
Heightened security for the Biden inauguration 04:18

The nation's capital is an armed camp; police, Secret Service, FBI everywhere, backed by a staggering number of National Guard troops under the command of Major General William Walker.

"To have 25,000 Guardsmen here to support the federal law enforcement should tell everybody that we're prepared for pretty much anything," he told CBS news national security correspondent David Martin.

That's 25,000 troops – many of them armed – compared to the 340 unarmed Guardsmen on duty when the Capitol was stormed, and 9,500 at Barack Obama's first Inauguration.  But here's the most telling comparison: 25,000 is five times the number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Since 9/11 we've been focused on the threat of Islamist terror, which is still a threat," said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League. "But we need to recognize that in this country the challenge we have is one of homegrown terror."

Greenblatt said the wave of arrests that followed the storming of the Capitol will not stop the protests: "For them, the arrests are like a kind of martyrdom. They see it as a necessary step, and they're able to glorify themselves even when they're detained in this way."

It's taking place on social media – the same place terrorist groups like ISIS got their start.

When asked what he sees on social media, Seamus Hughes, of George Washington University, said, "I'm seeing the same thing the FBI is seeing, which is all the lights blinking red. A number of different extremist groups, all coalescing around this idea of coming to the Capitol on January 20th."

According to Hughes, many of them don't care they have almost no chance of stopping the inauguration of Joe Biden. "There is a subset of extremists there that just want to watch the world burn. And the fact that the National Guard is sleeping at the Capitol, it's getting to what they want to get to, which is dividing the country."

Troops marshalling at the National Guard Armory will be all over the city. Extremists can ignore the facts that Biden won the election, but armed soldiers are not so easily dismissed.

Martin asked Maj. Gen. Walker, "When are they allowed to use lethal force?"

"They're allowed to protect themselves, and come to the aid of others to protect others, that's all," he replied.

"We saw what happened at the Capitol. With that situation in which police were being overrun, does that justify the use of lethal force?"

"No, sir."

"You could allow a crowd to storm the Capitol and take over?"

"No, sir," said Maj. Gen. Walker. "I have a right to protect myself, so if you pull out a weapon on me and you point it at me and I am convinced you're going to try to kill me, I have the right to defend myself."

Some of the extremists who stormed the Capitol once had, or still have, ties to the military, which is why the Joint Chiefs of Staff put out this extraordinary message to all the troops, reminding them that Joe Biden is about to become their Commander-in-Chief.

"To make sure that nobody had a question [about it]," said Gen. Dan Hokanson, head of the National Guard Bureau, and a member of the Joint Chiefs.

Martin asked, "Are you worried at all about the reliability of your National Guard troops?"

"Absolutely not," he replied.

"Have you been screening some of the troops as they come in?"

"Yes, sir. In coordination with the Secret Service and the FBI, they're screening all the personnel that are coming in."

Greenblatt said, "As the National Guard has rolled in, now we're seeing the extremists focus on targets outside of Washington D.C. It's nothing short of a potentially violent armed insurgency."

Twenty-five thousand troops manning barbed wire-topped fences can protect the inauguration, but can they stem the tide of extremism?

"This isn't the end; this is just the end of the beginning," said Greenblatt. "And I think it's entering a whole new and potentially very frightening phase."

Maj. Gen. Walker said, "This is what we all signed up for, to help protect America from all enemies, foreign and domestic."

"But this week it'll be domestic," said Martin.

"Yes, sir: 'All enemies, foreign and domestic.' That's the oath to the Constitution."

For more info:

Story produced by Mary Raffalli and Mary Walsh. Editor: George Pozderec. 

See also: 

Passing the torch: An inauguration amidst crisis 08:33
View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.