Tight Security, Bitter Cold Highlight Inauguration Ceremonies


President Bush and first lady Laura Bush walk during the inauguration parade in front of the White House. Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005, in Washington.

(AP Photo/Doug Mills/Pool)
Published: Friday, January 21, 2005 at 6:25 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 21, 2005 at 6:25 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- The security was so tight, parts of the U.S. capital felt more like a compound under siege than a city extolling democracy. Snow threatened the parade, and the splendor and frivolity of the balls stood in unmistakable contrast to the tumult overseas.

And so it was that George W. Bush was sworn into office for a second term Thursday, in an inauguration marked by cautious celebration and small but potent protests.

Tens of thousands of shivering yet determined Americans braved lines of police and streets barricaded by buses parked askew. Security for the first such event since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks made it harder than ever before to get a glimpse of the presidential motorcade, let alone the floats and marching bands, but Americans went to great lengths trying.

Clark McGuire, 63, spent $2,000 to fly in from Dallas and take part in the celebration. He and his wife were roaming H Street in a biting wind Thursday afternoon, looking for an entrance where their coveted silver passes would be accepted.

"Because we love this president," he said in unnecessary explanation, given the sparkling "Bush 2004" pin attached to his wife's red hat.

The city was transformed into a maze of dead-ends by security that managed to give the appearance of a come-one-come-all celebration while actually being as tightly controlled as an airport.

Women unbuttoned their full-length furs and men their black topcoats to be frisked. The streets were lined with barriers of steel, mesh and concrete. Squads of helmeted riot police marched in formation and kept protesters at bay. Sharpshooters were perched on rooftops. Helicopters circled low overhead.

Spectators who couldn't secure a ticket for the parade squeezed between the towering bleachers, standing on their toes and craning their necks to see the marching bands that passed along Pennsylvania Avenue.

"This is the best day of my life," said Molly Stark, 27, as she watched the parade with friends, all of them graduates of Brigham Young University.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani threw a parade-watching party on the rooftop of the Hotel Washington, where lobbyists and other influential Bush supporters snacked on brownies and cookies.

But for the less-privileged masses on the ground, the long lines at security checkpoints were more than a nuisance. About 40 students from Ewing High School in New Jersey paid $680 each to take part in an inaugural field trip organized by a history teacher. But when they headed for the Capitol mall on Thursday morning to watch the swearing in, 20 of them got stuck in a line that barely budged for an hour. They retreated to a nearby restaurant.

"We watched it on TV at a pizza joint," 15-year-old Vildana Hajric said with some disappointment. "It was OK."

If everything official looked staid and ceremonial on the television cameras, there were scattershot bursts of un-orchestrated fun -- even within the restrictive security ring. Killing time before the crowd poured in, three police officers had a snowball fight. One section of the bleachers cheered wildly when actor Mickey Rooney passed by in the cab of a fire truck, in a level of exuberance that occasionally spooked the police horses.

Overall, it was a day of pomp and splendor -- blaring trumpets, booming cannons and service members of every stripe turned out in dress uniforms. At an elegant luncheon in the Capitol's majestic Statuary Hall, the Bushes and government's elite -- including former presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton -- dined lavishly.

Laura Bush took her husband's hand during the opening prayer. The president nodded graciously as they all stood to toast him.

"I am impressed by this inaugural ceremony. It is a magnificent event ... not in my life but in the life of the country," he said.

Afterward, Bush stood with his wife, Vice President Dick Cheney and Lynne Cheney on the west Capitol steps as 400 troops passed in review, their heads turning at a sharp 45-degree angle to acknowledge him. They became his escort for the parade that rolled luxuriously toward the White House, speeding up only when it passed protesters throwing snowballs. Police responded with pepper spray.

Toward the end of the route, the Bushes got out of the car and walked several yards, looking relaxed and happy.

Times staff writers Warren Vieth, Johanna Neuman, Robin Abcarian and Justin Dickerson contributed to this report.

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