Amid unprecedented security measures, Congressional law enforcement officials reported no major disruptions at the 55th presidential inaugural during the official ceremonies on the Capitol grounds Thursday.
The Capitol Police Department, which deployed its entire 1,600-officer force, reported six arrests, including the removal of several protesters who attempted to disrupt President Bush’s inaugural address from viewing stands on the West Front lawn.
Police also arrested a Californian man, Richard Weaver, who is more widely known as the “Handshake Man” for his history of eluding law-enforcement agents at large-scale events in a bid to shake hands with presidents, athletes and celebrities.
Officers had been trained to identify Weaver after he entered a restricted area and managed to shake hands with President Bush during his first inauguration in 2001.
Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said that large crowds waiting to enter House and Senate office buildings — either to pick up tickets or to reach inaugural viewing areas — created the most significant challenge for the department.
“The big problem is moving the crowds through,” Gainer said shortly before the midday swearing-in ceremony began. To accommodate the crowds, Gainer said, officers adjusted security procedures — for example, using bomb-sniffing dogs to screen alternating vehicles, rather than each vehicle moving into a restricted area.
One witness suggested the congestion may have been caused by visitors unfamiliar with Capitol Hill protocol removing their coats and shoes to proceed through security checkpoints, similar to what is required in airports by the Transportation Security Administration.
Several officers stationed at entryways, however, said few visitors took such precautions.
Despite the apparent delays, many visitors praised the security efforts as well-organized.
“We were at the last [inauguration], and this was much more efficient,” said Carol Neves of Maplewood, N.J., who attended the ceremony with fellow New Jerseyite Herbert Roemmele.
“Security did an outstanding job — very professional,” Roemmele said.
Neves also praised the newly redesigned inaugural tickets, which feature not only a variety of security features but also state the nearest Metrorail station and are color coded to the ticktetholder’s seating area.
“The color coding seemed to help,” she said.
Len and Sandy Golden of Milwaukee, Wis., voiced similar sentiments.
“There was a lot of security, but it went very smoothly, and we’re glad for it,” said Len Golden. Added Sandy Golden: “They took a banana we brought to eat, but they were very friendly about it.”
Capitol Police also removed several visitors from the inaugural stands for protesting during the swearing-in ceremony.
Among those arrested were a group of three individuals who began to chanting “Stop the war. Bring home the troops” as Chief Justice William Rehnquist administered the Oath of Office to Bush.
After individuals in adjacent seats began to throw snowballs at the protesters and shout at them to remain silent, four Capitol Police officers escorted the protestors from their seats.
In a separate incident during the president’s inaugural address, four women, apparently members of the activist group Code Pink, unfurled large anti-war banners and hoisted peace signs in the air.
Capitol Police officers issued a warning to the women and remained nearby, then removed the group when they began to chant a short time later.
At the same time, Capitol Police removed two other protesters who had unveiled a large banner bearing the words “NO WAR.”