Nearly 5,000 National Guard troops are in Washington, DC this week for an inauguration that won’t happen.
That’s because followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory believe that on 4 March, which was once the inauguration date of US presidents, Donald Trump will become president again. According to Rep. Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, this has led to online chatter about storming the Capitol a second time.
“Some of these people have figured out that apparently 75 years ago, the president used to be inaugurated on 4 March,” Smith said during a hearing last month with Department of Defense officials. “Now why that’s relevant, God knows. At any rate, now they are thinking maybe we should gather again and storm the Capitol on 4 March.”
In the aftermath of the 6 January riot, at which many QAnon believers were present, Capitol Police requested that 4,900 National Guard members remain in DC through to 12 March. Concerns other than the 4 March theories, including a need for security around President Biden’s joint address to Congress, played a role in the request as well.
Pentagon officials say they are working to determine how many troops will still be needed after the request expires.
“We work very closely with the FBI, Secret Service, and others and the Capitol Police to try to determine what they believe that threat is, and then look at what they believe is the need for the National Guard,” Robert Salesses, an assistant secretary of defence, said at the hearing. “Obviously, 4,900 is a very large number here on the Capitol.”
QAnon is a sprawling, ever-evolving conspiracy theory that began on the right-wing website 4chan in 2017. Its central tenet is that Democrats are involved in a global, Satan-worshipping child sex ring, and Donald Trump is the only person who can defeat it.
Trump has denied having any knowledge of QAnon, but some believers think he’s sending them a signal about 4 March through his hotel. According to Forbes, the Trump International Hotel in DC has dramatically raised its rates for 3 and 4 March, while other hotel prices in the area have remained stable.
“Raising room prices will surely be interpreted by QAnon as Trump’s support for the 4 March narrative,” Jason Blazakis, a terrorism expert at the Soufan Center, told Forbes. “They absolutely try to interpret the words and actions of President Trump very carefully.”
The inauguration of American presidents took place on March 4 until 1933, when Congress passed the 20th Amendment to the US Constitution. That amendment changed the date to January 20, when every inauguration has been held since then.
At the Armed Services hearing, Smith said he did not necessarily expect any violence on Thursday, but emphasised the need for caution – and offered a suggestion to his Republican colleagues.
“Stuff like that circulates all the time. Does it mean it’s going to happen? Probably not,” he said, referring to the 4 March threats. “But if you want to help, tell them not to do that – tell them that the election is over.”