A peaceful but tense transfer of power

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: witnessing the inauguration.

The United States doesn’t have many occasions for pomp and ceremony. We can chalk that up to our forebearer’s emphasis on substance over showmanship. But the inauguration of a new president is the one time we wallow in tradition and celebrate the endurance of the American experiment.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: This year, we had a lot less wallowing and a lot more worrying. Soldiers outnumbered inauguration guests. And the U.S. Capital seemed more like a city under siege than a city welcoming a peaceful transfer of power.

WORLD Reporter Emily Belz didn’t exactly have a front-row seat to yesterday’s events. Not many people did! But she was in Washington and joins us now to talk about what it was like.

Good morning, Emily!

EMILY BELZ, REPORTER: Hi! Good to be with you. 

REICHARD: You’re based in New York City now, but you spent quite a few years living in D.C. What struck you most about the city when you arrived this week?

BELZ: It is completely transformed in terms of the barricades being everywhere. There’s a very large green zone is what they’re calling it where they put up barricades and fences and blocked vehicles from coming through. So it’s very strange to see military troops getting coffee at your local coffee shop, but it also, of course, made me feel very safe. It maybe was a little bit of an overreaction, I think, having upwards of 30,000 extra law enforcement in the city, but it was reassuring for somebody covering this. 

REICHARD: The security perimeter around the inauguration itself was incredibly tight. How close were you able to get and what was it like where you were?

BELZ: Well, I unfortunately had to plan this all very last-minute because our D.C. reporter got COVID and so the credentialing process for the inauguration happens well ahead of time and there’s a lot of security protocols involved in that, as well as the fact that we’re in a pandemic means that they require testing before you could even enter the perimeter and that had to be done well ahead of time. So, all of that to say that because of the last-minute nature, I couldn’t get into the perimeter and get the tickets for that. But I think it was better from a reporting standpoint to be outside the perimeter with the regular folks and all the rabble, I guess, because that was where we thought there would be some action, potentially, some protests. And, I mean, I think that’s where the law enforcement was concerned about some violence happening. So that’s why I wanted to be there was just in case something happened. So it worked out, I guess, that I didn’t get a ticket so that I could be there to see if anything went wrong. Which, fortunately, it did not. 

REICHARD: The large-scale rallies and protests officials feared did not materialize. But the National Park Service did set aside two areas along Pennsylvania Avenue for a small number of demonstrators. About 100 people each. Did you stop by there?

BELZ: I did not visit that part of the perimeter. It was a very large perimeter, but there were a number of protests closer to the Capitol. It was very small groups of people, I mean, I saw a few people with signs questioning the legitimacy of the election and some people with Black Lives Matter signs and some Westboro Baptist protesters, but it was all very unorganized and scattered. I don’t know exactly who the groups were that were in the official First Amendment zones. I didn’t get down that far. 

REICHARD: What about the people you encountered as you walked around? What were they doing or saying?

BELZ: You know, the interesting thing is that there were mostly street preachers. It was strange. It was people with megaphones walking through these empty streets telling everyone they were on their way to hell. So those were the overwhelming people that I saw, the category of people that I saw. But otherwise there were the usual—some fans of Donald Trump and some fans of Joe Biden who were sporting kind of their team’s merchandise. But I did interview some people who showed up just because they kind of wanted to get in on the action if anything happened. So, one guy I talked to showed up with all this pepper spray and all this gear and he said he was worried about some of these militias coming and he wanted to help fight back, I guess. So there were people like that who seemed to be kind of drawn to the excitement of it, the potential for action, but it all stayed pretty calm aside from that.

REICHARD: Emily Belz is a reporter for WORLD Magazine. You can read her account of yesterday’s inauguration at WNG.org. Thanks for joining us today, Emily!

BELZ: So great to be with you, Mary.

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool) Congressional members and guests arrive for the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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