‘No idea what’s going to go down’: Students plan for potential unrest on Inauguration Day

Media Credit: Phebe Grosser | Staff Photographer

Students said mundane experiences like a trip to the grocery store or a ride on the Metro feel unsafe when unmasked pro-Trump protesters armed with weapons or combat gear are in the vicinity.

The day before junior Mae McGrath planned to return to D.C., she watched a mob supporting President Donald Trump storm the U.S. Capitol on TV.

McGrath said the insurrection prompted her to push back her return date and stay inside during Inauguration Day events as threats of violence and the spread of COVID-19 remain. She said living in the District the last few weeks has been “nerve-wracking,” citing an increased military presence around campus and the potential to contract the coronavirus. 

“I’ve been seeing big groups of Trump supporters wandering around, and they’re always pretty threatening and not wearing masks, which just isn’t safe, obviously,” McGrath said. 

In interviews, more than 10 students living in D.C. said the riot at the Capitol left them “anxious” about being in the District and halted their plans to attend the presidential inauguration. Nine students said they will stock up on groceries for the week and remain in their residence halls or apartments come Wednesday in case any protests against President-elect Joe Biden turn violent. 

“Especially after last week, I just really have no idea what is going to go down on inauguration,” McGrath said. “It could escalate to the level of the Capitol last week or potentially even worse. So that’s probably my No. 1 concern.”

Administrators announced all offices and Foggy Bottom COVID-19 testing sites will close during the inauguration out of caution. D.C. officials have made similar moves to quell residents’ anxieties through many street closures and a text hotline for public safety updates.

Junior Louie Kahn, the president of GW College Democrats, said the organization is planning virtual events, like a virtual inaugural ball, instead of going to in-person inauguration events Wednesday. He said he was planning to attend the inauguration but instead will be staying indoors at his apartment and off the streets in light of the Capitol attack.

Kahn said he is “disheartened” that Biden’s inauguration won’t be able to proceed like those in the past. But he added that he is more worried about Trump not facilitating a peaceful transfer of power. 

“Of course, there will be more inaugurations in our lifetime, assuming that all goes well,” he said. “But for me, it’s really just the fact that this country is in the position where we can’t have this kind of event.”

Gabriella Spina, a freshman and a Hatchet reporter, said her parents originally wanted to pick her up from her off-campus apartment before the inauguration this week after hearing reports of bombs placed near the Capitol. She said she and her parents ultimately decided she would remain in D.C. to avoid the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19, and she will stay inside on Inauguration Day.

Spina said she and her roommates will stock up on frozen food before Wednesday in case stores are shut down during the week. She said she is “worried” because the National Guard has deployed thousands of troops to the District, which brings more people to D.C. and may increase the spread of the coronavirus.

“You’re going to have people there supporting the transition, people that are not supporting the transition, and one subset of those people are known to not particularly follow COVID precautions,” Spina said. “I didn’t want to be in such close proximity to a place where there’s going to be a ton of people. You can never guarantee that everyone’s going to wear a mask.”

Junior Drew Amstutz said he was “looking forward” to the inauguration prior to the riots, but instead of attending the inaugural events, he decided to go into work at his job at the Pentagon City Mall in Arlington, Virginia. He said he is “concerned” about traveling to work that day, especially since the Metro was “flooded” with crowds of people on the day of the Capitol riot, calling his commute that day the “scariest Metro experience” he ever had.

“All the trains coming from Virginia into D.C. were packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people without masks on, wearing either forms of red or camouflage or giant flags,” Amstutz said. “Some people had rods and all these dangerous-looking things with backpacks or bulletproof vests on and stuff like that.”

But while many of their classmates plan to avoid Capitol Hill on Inauguration Day, two roommates are determined to catch a glimpse of the quadrennial swearing-in ceremony.

Sophomore Ashley Lomasney said she and her roommate want to walk “as close as possible” to the National Mall to celebrate Biden’s inauguration. Lomasney and her roommate said they will take safety precautions by wearing masks and following news updates and any city warnings of potential unrest in the wake of the Capitol riot.

“Being online for three semesters now is partially Donald Trump’s fault because of his response and his supporters’ response [to the COVID-19 pandemic],” Lomasney said. “I wanted to go to the inauguration anyway just because I felt he took in-person classes from me – they can’t take the inauguration for me.”

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