The FBI warns of violence ahead of Joe Biden’s Presidential inauguration, but heightened security may defer the risk

There were further protests in the US over the weekend, where tensions remain high after the deadly riots at the Capitol in Washington on 6 January. The FBI has warned that further unrest is expected ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday 20 January.

Protests were held outside fortified capitol buildings in Texas, Oregon, Michigan, Ohio and elsewhere by small groups of pro-Trump supporters, some of them armed. No clashes were reported.

According to Tom Johansmeyer, ARM and head of PCS, a Verisk Business, the lack of riot and civil disorder over the weekend shows once again how difficult the progression is between public sentiment and large catastrophe events.

“What we see in over 70 years of history in and around the PCS data set is that riot and civil disorder rarely rises to catastrophe levels, and has only twice become quite large (1992 Los Angeles riots and the 2020 riots),” he said.

“For a protest to become even a localised riot with minimal physical damage and insured losses below the PCS threshold, a lot has to happen,” he continued. “Protesters need to move from presence to violence. There needs to be a significant group of people that has decided that the activities they want to engage in (beyond peaceful protest) are worth risking arrest or other consequences.”

”To reach the PCS catastrophe threshold of insured losses of at least $25m, the resulting event would have to cause fairly widespread physical damage.”

In July 2020, the riot on Chicago’s ‘Magnificent Mile’ resulted in violence, arrests, and more than 200 businesses affected. However, insured losses were relatively low. Riots in Portland, Oregon, were centered mostly around uninsured government buildings – likewise the 6 January 2021 US Capitol riots.

Attack on the US Capitol

On 6 January, crowds that gathered to support President Trump and protest the US election proceedings clashed with law enforcement, and breached the Capitol where Congress was in session to count and certify election results. Lawmakers were moved to a secure location, and Vice President Pence was evacuated.

Law enforcement deployed tear gas, and the building was secured hours later after further security reinforcements arrived. The FBI confirmed that two pipe bombs were found and rendered safe during the protests.

The violence that occurred on 6 January resulted in five deaths, including one police officer. It prompted the House to vote to impeach President Donald Trump on incitement of insurrection.

From a damage perspective however, the unrest did not result in significant insured loss, explained PCS’ Johansmeyer.

“What made the ‘George Floyd’ riots different were fire and the accumulation of geographically disperse losses to large national accounts,” explained Johansmeyer. “Fire damage can be expensive to repair, and it can lead to more business interruption. Further, the losses to large retailers accounted for a significant portion of the industrywide insured loss – approximately 30 per cent.”

“Riot and civil disorder are more likely to deescalate than lead to catastrophe events,” he added. “Last weekend, we saw that implementing heightened security at key locations across the country could at least defer the risk.”

”This doesn’t mean we’re outside the ‘peak peril’ time for riot and civil disorder, though. Through the inauguration, there are still planned protests that have yet to materialise, as well as the possibility of unplanned protests as well. There’s an expectation that this could persist past the inauguration, as well.”

Security consultant G4S expects an elevated security risk posed by civil unrest and terrorism, particularly in Washington DC, as well as across state capitals and major cities through at least inauguration day, with a potential for further violence beyond the election period. This is “due to individuals and groups who believe in violent means to object to President-Elect Biden’s presidency”.

It assesses that the overall risk of domestic terrorism has increased in the US, with a risk of isolated acts of violence. ”There is also a heightened risk of assassination attempts against politicians, and particularly President-Elect Biden,” it warned.