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Washington, worried about the election, is preparing

WASHINGTON – Here’s an early and puzzling electoral indicator: plywood.

In recent days, the ominous precaution has been evident throughout downtown Washington, several blocks from the White House. The plywood has spread around Capitol Hill, along the nightlife corridors of 14th Street and Adams Morgan, and reached the suburbs. Storefronts and office buildings have been closed throughout the weekend and likely will be until it‘s all over, when it does.

Plywood is never a comforting sign. It suggests chaos and riots, skirmishes and hurricanes. Elections? This is not how it should be here. Yes, the country is clearly on the cutting edge, and there have already been scattered reports of horrific episodes across the country: clashes at polling stations, peaceful tear gas protesters in North Carolina, supporters of President Trump shutting down. a New Jersey highway and reporting threats of possible militia violence in Georgia.

But there is something about seeing plywood in the nation’s capital that can seem especially scary.

Theoretically, it should be the shining city of orderly rituals, norms and traditions. A presidential election should be the time to celebrate lasting democracy and a peaceful transfer of power. But of course, we are in 2020.

On Sunday, several news agencies reported that government security officials would erect a “non-scalable” fence around the White House complex to secure the area. About 600 National Guard soldiers have been appointed to respond to a request from a governor of the country – or the secretary of the military in the District of Columbia – to support their response to the protests, Guard officials said.

The news evoked an immediate echo at the Lafayette Square spectacle in June, when riot officers and mounted police took out the protesters so Mr. Trump could hold a Bible for a photo op outside the Holy Episcopal Church. -Jeans.

Nothing in the phrase “peaceful transfer of power” is assured this week – neither the “peaceful” parties nor “transfer of power”.

Almost all of the CVS, Walgreens, and 7-Eleven within at least a mile or so of downtown appeared to be heavily fortified.

Perhaps this is the most baffling part: the idea that plywood, suddenly, feels like a normal feature of local architecture at times. That no one would flinch when they were warned that the next few days should be treated as a possible disaster.

Students at George Washington University received emails last week saying, “We suggest that you prepare for the Election Day period as you would for a hurricane or snowstorm.” Beneficiaries were urged to stock up on food and supplies.

There have been other such notices. New Zealand Ambassador to Washington Rosemary Banks has sent a note in recent weeks to embassy staff reminding them to keep 14 days of food and essentials at home. Storage has been embassy protocol since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, but in that memo, the ambassador said there was a new concern: the prospect of violent protests around the election could mean that staff may need to avoid venturing onto the street.

The media were also preparing. Reporters at the Wall Street Journal’s Washington office received gas masks and orange bicycle helmets marked “press”. Local TV stations were showing “brace yourself” segments. Hotlines and websites have been set up.

Security details have been tightened around the private homes of senior administration officials. Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post posted on twitter a photograph of the exterior of Attorney General William P. Barr’s home in suburban Virginia as it was picketed by supporters of Mr. Trump. They were unhappy that the president was not doing more to secure the imprisonment of his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who leads the polls.

Several restaurants and retail outlets near the White House have posted signs saying they will remain closed indefinitely “as a precaution,” which could just as easily be the official slogan for 2020.

At Puglisi Hair Cuts, about half a mile west of the White House, Abel Gaona said business was already slow because of the pandemic. Mr Gaona, a hairdresser, said he was concerned the planks above his windows – which the building’s property manager installed last week – would make people believe Puglisi was closed, driving business away remaining.

“All barbers, when we’re not working we don’t make money,” Gaona said Monday morning, waiting for his first client to come in.

Still, he said the plan was to close the barber shop on Wednesday, fearing the elections would lead to violence. “I guess when people don’t like whoever wins, they’re going to protest,” Gaona said.

It was difficult to go anywhere without meeting the sign that it was not a normal election week.

This included social media (obviously). Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, reminded his Twitter followers Monday morning that the country was entering an “unusual” period and that its opponents could take advantage of it.

“Our intelligence community warned that the period immediately before and after polling day was going to be particularly volatile,” Warner said. wrote.

Reporting was provided by Mark Mazzetti, Eric Schmitt, Julian E. Barnes and Christopher Flavelle of Washington.