Law enforcement in Washington, DC, said Monday that the Russian invasion of Ukraine, potential protests of President Joe Biden and a possible trucker convoy headed to the Washington area are all factoring into a heightened security response for the State of the Union address Tuesday night.
Officials spoke to their overall preparedness during a news briefing ahead of the address, which will see hundreds of lawmakers gather in the House chamber and is designated as a National Special Security Event.
Under the federal designation, the US Secret Service is the lead agency for the design and implementation of the operational security plan. During such an event, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is responsible for response and recovery operations, and the FBI is the lead for investigative work and counterterrorism.
“Certainly, the events abroad are, not only just in the physical space, but also in cyberspace,” said Christopher Rodriguez, director of Washington’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, noting the potential threat from Russia in the form of cyberattacks and disinformation.
“There is the potential for Russian disinformation,” Rodriguez said during the briefing, standing alongside Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and local and federal law enforcement officials. “This wouldn’t be the first time the Russians have done that across the United States in the last several years.”
Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee told reporters Monday that the department is receiving help from the Philadelphia and Baltimore police departments. Capitol Police are on high alert as well, requesting installation of a fence around the inner perimeter of the Capitol grounds to bolster security.
Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations will provide aerial support to the Secret Service for the event, according to a CBP spokesperson.
The skies near Washington will be more restricted than usual during the address.
A bulletin to pilots published by the Federal Aviation Administration says special provisions that typically allow small aircraft to fly in an area 30 nautical miles from the city will be suspended from 8 to 11 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
Pilots will still be able to land and take off from Dulles International, Baltimore-Washington International and Manassas Regional airports, so long as they file a certain type of flight plan and are talking with air traffic controllers via radio.
Officials prepare for potential trucker convoys
Contee told reporters that a trucker convoy would be allowed into the city, but the department is prepared for possible disruptions. Further, Contee said truckers who refuse to move may face arrest.
“Obviously, we’d like to get voluntary compliance,” Contee said. “If we have someone who fails to obey the lawful directive of an officer, a traffic officer in this sense – you know, ‘Hey move your vehicle out of the roadway,’ that type of thing – that person ultimately … could be arrested for that type of behavior and disruption.”
Officials across the region have been preparing for disruptions from truckers for more than a week. Concerns over security prompted both US Capitol Police and Bowser to request National Guard assistance. The Department of Defense has approved 700 members of the National Guard and 50 large tactical vehicles.
Over the weekend, the Department of Homeland Security warned state and local officials that the reported convoys headed to the Washington, DC, region could create public safety issues and have the potential to attract domestic violent extremists.
However, federal law enforcement agencies have “not observed any substantiated threats of violence” from extremists, according to a DHS intelligence notice issued Saturday and obtained by CNN.
Some people are discussing plans to organize large semi-truck convoys to Washington, DC with the goal of interrupting military and police security near the US Capitol during a range of potential dates in March and April, the document said, based off FBI reporting.
The planned arrival to the region around the State of the Union “could raise the public profile of any associated convoys that do materialize, increasing the likelihood that the protest activity could attract some domestic violent extremists,” the notice said.
Although there is no substantiated threat of violence, the threat of attack during a convoy event “probably is elevated,” according to the notice, because aspects of the convoy complaints overlap with domestic violent extremist grievances related to Covid-19 restrictions.
Covid-19 mitigation measures have been a “key driver” of domestic extremist violence over the past two years, it said.
“We have resources that are deployed, very much coordinating with all of our federal partners here to make sure that we have a safe State of the Union, and peaceful First Amendment assembly, whatever day it shows up,” he said during a news conference with federal and local officials.
The enhanced security posture will be in place “as long as it needs to be in place,” Contee added.
Homeland Security officials have been warning of the potential for disruption from US-based convoys since before the Super Bowl earlier this month. Reports of various convoys have sprung up in the past few weeks only to fizzle out without materializing into a substantial protest.
On Monday, CNN affiliate KOAM reported that the “People’s Convoy,” which started in California, had stopped in Missouri enroute to Washington, DC. The size and plans of the convoy are unclear.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and other DHS officials met Friday with Bowser and her public safety team to prepare for joint security efforts ahead of the State of the Union address and in anticipation of potential trucker convoys.
During the meeting Friday, officials discussed a variety of options to help the city manage potential convoy disruptions, such as the possibility of revoking commercial driver’s licenses if warranted, a source said. Additionally, to prevent DC from becoming the first and last line of defense against the convoy, the group discussed involving mayors and city officials along the convoy route as needed, according to the source.
There was also discussion, the source said, of whether weigh stations along the route could be used to hold back some of the trucks and prevent hundreds of trucks from arriving at once.
On Monday, Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a tweet that the Biden administration had requested the assistance of state National Guards to deploy to Washington. “I have rejected this request – there will be no @FLGuard sent to D.C. for Biden’s State of the Union,” he tweeted.
Asked about the governor’s assertion, Contee said that “we will be using the DC National Guard for the Metropolitan Police Department” for State of the Union security.
“That was the mayor’s request for that and her insistence, as a matter of fact, that we have the DC National Guard for DC streets,” he said about the city’s posture.
According to two defense officials, there was no request for other states to provide National Guard support for the State of the Union. There was a general request for help supporting the region as it relates to the potential trucker convoy.
Approximately 100 members of the New Jersey and Vermont National Guards and 80 members of the West Virginia National Guard are providing support for the potential trucker convoys, but the Florida National Guard is not providing any such support.