Pursuant to 36 CFR 1.5(a)(1) the National Capital Area is implementing temporary closures of National Park Service (NPS) public facilities, parking areas and roadways in response to real and substantially likely threats to visitors and park resources. These temporary closures will remain in place from January 15, 2021, at approximately 11:00 a.m., through January 24, 2021. The National Park Service will open areas as soon as possible after the inauguration. Although the National Special Security Event (NSSE) authorization expires on January 21, 2021, the National Park Service anticipates it may take several days for the Secret Service to remove all of the security barricades and support infrastructure so the areas may be reopened to the public.
On September 24, 2018, the Secretary of Homeland Security designated Presidential Inaugurations as recurring NSSEs. Traditionally, this event is attended by the highest officials from all three branches of government, as well as thousands of spectators. On January 12, 2021, the NSSE period for the 59th presidential inauguration was extended to begin on January 13, 2021, and run until January 21, 2021. The unprecedented nature of the recent civil unrest at the U.S. Capitol coupled with the real and substantial threat of violence and unlawful behavior poses an unprecedented public safety and security challenge for the National Park Service and its partners.
On January 6, 2021, the U.S. Capitol’s security barriers were breached, and violent altercations ensued between individuals and law enforcement. These lawbreakers vandalized the U.S. Capitol and released multiple suspicious packages inside the U.S. Capitol buildings, one near critical infrastructure. Multiple law enforcement officers sustained injuries, and an officer died as a result of the violence. An individual was also fatally shot inside the U.S. Capitol.
As has been reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Department of Homeland Security, the violent breach of the U.S. Capitol by Domestic Violent Extremists (DVEs) on January 6, 2021, could serve as a driver for future targeted violence directed towards government officials, federal landmarks, members of the media, and members of the general public. Specifically, DVEs could exploit upcoming events to engage in or justify violence during the Presidential Inauguration and the NSSE period in Washington, DC. Furthermore, the violent breach of the U.S. Capitol is very likely part of an ongoing trend in which DVEs attempt to exploit lawful protests, rallies, demonstrations and other gatherings to carry out ideologically-motivated violence and criminal activities.
Groups involved in the January 6, 2021 riots at the U.S. Capitol continue to threaten to disrupt the 59th presidential inauguration on January 20, 2021. This includes the set up and execution of the now truncated and largely virtual inaugural events that will be staged on National Park Service areas at the National Mall, President’s Park, and on some portions of Pennsylvania Avenue Historical Park. These events will be produced solely for a television audience, with no live audience, and there will be no traditional Inaugural Parade.
In light of these events, the National Park Service has received a request from the United States Secret Service (Secret Service) to temporarily restrict access to certain streets, sidewalks, and park land and to issue a temporary, partial closure of the areas roughly bounded by Constitution Avenue, NW to the north; Ohio Drive, SW to the south; the Potomac River to the west; and 3rd Street to the east. The area also generally includes President’s Park and the White House Complex, as well as NPS lands along Pennsylvania Avenue, except for designated areas for First Amendment activities. The Secret Service is currently aware of multiple security threats to the public, law enforcement, protected persons, park lands and monuments, and Presidential inauguration events. A security assessment has confirmed that no lesser alternative restrictions than those described herein are feasible to address the severity of these threats given current resources available to control them. A copy of the United States Secret Service’s letter dated January 14, 2021, is attached and incorporated by reference.
In addition, a larger NSSE area defined by the Secret Service includes a significant portion of downtown Washington D.C., access to which will require a security screening. Franklin Park, McPherson Square, and Farragut Park are included in the NSSE area. NPS park lands within the NSSE area, to include these three parks, may be temporarily closed to public access by NPS throughout the inaugural period if security conditions dictate.
At this time, at the request of the Secret Service and the U.S. Park Police, the National Park Service is temporarily closing to the public the roadways and NPS Park areas within the boundaries described below:
The Office of Personnel Management authorized alternate work schedules and encourages Federal Government employees to stay home during the inaugural period. The Washington Area Council of Governments has also issued guidance encouraging residents to stay home and the Mayor of the District of Columbia has also encouraged residents to stay home.
Inaugural event personnel will consist only of performers, speakers, and logistical people. There will be no in person audience for these events.
The National Park Service is designating two areas within the NSSE for First Amendment activities. The designated areas are portions of John Marshall Park and the Navy Memorial. Only First Amendment activities are authorized at these designated locations. The U.S. Park Police made the determination that in light of recent events, and with the current available threat assessments, each of these park areas will be limited to no more individuals than can be safely accommodated. Based on the current assessment, no more than 100 individuals at each location can be safely accommodated. The threat assessments change daily. The U.S. Park Police determined that allowing individuals access at normal visitor capacity creates an unmanageable security risk. This limitation allows the law enforcement community to protect all persons within the NSSE zones.
First Amendment activities will be subject to uniformly applied security restrictions, including security screenings, the Secret Service’s prohibited items list, identification requirements (a U.S. Park Police requirement to ensure only NPS-authorized persons are within the designated areas), and other NPS guidelines for attendance. As provided in the National Park Service regulations, only authorized structures will be allowed as part of these First Amendment events. Each permitted demonstration group will be escorted to their designated location within the designated First Amendment areas by the U.S. Park Police and monitored by National Park Service staff. Finally, each permittee is required to submit a COVID mitigation plan. We remind the public that the District of Columbia government has issued a public health order related to groups of 25 or more. These locations have ample space for social distancing.
These temporary closures will remain in place from January 15, 2021, at approximately 11:00 a.m., through January 24, 2021. The National Park Service will open areas to the public as quickly as possible after the inauguration once the Secret Service has removed the security barricades and it can ensure the public can safely reenter the previously closed areas. Please be advised that authorized individuals, law enforcement partners, and emergency vehicles would continue to have access to these restricted areas. In response to the events of January 6, 2021, the National Park Service has already suspended tours of the Washington Monument beginning January 11, 2021, through January 24, 2021, and has already in some instances instituted temporary closures of public access to roadways, parking areas and restrooms within the National Mall and Memorial Parks, to protect public safety and park resources.
Limits on athletic activity and temporary closures to public access to Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, and Old Post Office Tower were already in effect in response to the pandemic, and are described in a separate Record of Determination dated November 23, 2020.
The temporary closures are not of a nature or duration that will result in a “significant alteration in the public use pattern.” The closures will not adversely affect the park’s natural aesthetic or cultural values, nor require significant modification to the resource management objection, nor is it of a highly controversial nature.
Accordingly, the National Park Service determines publication as rulemaking in the Federal Register is unwarranted under 36 CFR 1.5(c). This determination is consistent with hundreds of earlier partial or temporary closures, the legal opinion of the Office of the Solicitor, and judicial adjudications that have upheld other NPS closures and public use limitations. Spiegel v. Babbitt, 855 F. Supp. 402 (D.D.C. 1994) affd in part w/o op. 56 F. 3d 1531 (D.C. Cir. 1995), reported in full, 1995 US App. Lexis 15200 (D.C. Cir. May 31, 1995); ANSWER Coalition v. Norton, No. 05-0071, (D.D.C. January 18, 2005), Mahoney v. Norton, No. 02-1715 (D.D.C. August 22, 2002), plaintiff’s emergency motion for appeal for injunction pending appealed denied Mahoney v. Norton, No. 02-5275 (D.C. Cir. September 9, 2002) (per curium); Picciotto v. United States, No. 99-2113 (D.D.C. August 6, 1999); Picciotto v. Lujan, No. 90-1261 (D.D.C. May 30, 1990) Picciotto v. Hodel, No. 87-3290 (D.D.C. December 7, 1987).
Pursuant to 36 CFR 1.5(c), 1.7, notice of these temporary and partial closures will be made through roadway gates and the posting of signs at conspicuous locations in the affected park areas. Finally, pursuant to 36 CFR 1.5(c), this determination is available to the public upon request.
Lisa A. Mendelson-Ielmini
Deputy Director, NPS National Capital Area
January 18, 2021
Last updated: January 19, 2021