More than 21,000 Guard members from across the country are headed to D.C., and numbers may grow

Members of Florida National Guard 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment depart from Orlando before dawn on Friday to join forces protecting the nation's capitol. Credit: Florida National Guard

WASHINGTON — Wednesday’s presidential inauguration ceremony may have a scaled-down audience due to the pandemic, but the security presence on hand to ensure it goes smoothly will be supersized.

At least 21,000 National Guard men and women — from states across the country, plus three territories and the District of Columbia — will provide security support for the inauguration, according to the National Guard Bureau, amid fears about threats of violence following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Some 7,250 were on hand in D.C. as of Friday.

William Manley, deputy communications director for the Florida National Guard, said 600 Guard members with the 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, deployed Friday morning from their home station armories to join forces in Washington, D.C., protecting the nation’s capitol during the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Manley said the National Guard Bureau sent out a call for up to 20,000 Guard members to come to D.C. and that Gov. Ron DeSantis approved the deployment of 600 from Florida.

The Florida Guard says on its Facebook page that its members will partner with the U.S. Secret Service and Capitol Police to conduct traffic checkpoints, do crowd control and take part in command-and-control operations.

The soldiers and airmen typically come from across the country to assist during the massive, once-every-four-years event. But four years ago, those state-based units were asked to provide a fraction of this year’s figure, sending more than 7,500 National Guard members to assist when President Donald Trump was sworn in.

The number of National Guard members — some of whom were camped out this week inside the Capitol, the scene of the violent riot by Trump supporters — could grow further. The Associated Press reported that law enforcement leaders now believe they need at least 25,000 troops to secure President-elect Joe Biden’s swearing-in.

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are still expected to take their oaths of office outside, on the west side of the Capitol. Traditionally, they’d be watched by tens of thousands of people filling the National Mall.

But due to COVID-19 safety concerns, members of Congress don’t have stacks of inaugural tickets to hand out for spots near the inaugural platform. Those lawmakers will be able to attend in person, with one guest each.

To get in, they’ll be navigating a security perimeter that has grown in recent days. Massive metal fences surround the Capitol complex itself, and road closures have cascaded throughout downtown D.C., requiring a huge amount of manpower. Much of the Mall is closed.

In addition to Florida’s 600, the National Guard units on hand in D.C. include:

The U.S. Capitol isn’t the only legislative location facing security threats: state capitals also are bracing for potentially violent demonstrations closer to home.

The National Guard Bureau says more than 2,125 members of the National Guard are protecting state capitol buildings and key infrastructure around the country. Another 21,650 also are helping states respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, assisting with vaccinations, testing, food bank support and other efforts.

Phoenix reporter Laura Cassels contributed to this report.