(CNN)The nation is entering inauguration week with an unnerving police and military presence guarding the vestiges of democracy -- with Americans holding their breath as federal officials warn about threats of violence and potential unrest that have clouded preparations for the ceremonies that will usher President-elect Joe Biden into the White House and send President Donald Trump back to private life.
Determined to stave off the terrifying scene that unfolded during the violent insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, Washington, DC -- once the crown jewel of democracy admired around the world -- now resembles a police state as authorities try to ensure a peaceful transfer of power when Biden takes the oath of office on Wednesday. Some 25,000 National Guard troops have been deployed, military vehicles are blocking some of DC's streets, the National Mall is closed, and tall fences and barricades protect this country's sacred buildings as movement is restricted.
Deep within the fortressed capital city, Trump has remained out of public view during his last weekend in power — unrepentant for the violence he incited and unwilling to abandon the false election claims that have riled up his supporters. Meanwhile, Biden tried to get Americans focused on a more hopeful future as his team outlined the first steps he will take in office to try to aid struggling Americans amid the pandemic and fulfill campaign promises on issues like climate change, criminal justice and immigration.
But with fewer than four days left in the Trump presidency, the nation remains on high alert.
In another unsettling sign of the potential threats posed by homemade bombs or explosives -- like the ones planted outside the Republican and Democratic party headquarters earlier this month that didn't go off -- the US Postal Service has removed blue mail collection boxes from certain jurisdictions in 18 states as a security measure.
The National Guard presence in Washington is a stronger military footprint than the US has in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria combined. But Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen said Saturday the added security was "definitely necessary and warranted."
"Closing down the National Mall, closing down the Washington Metro system, Airbnb canceling reservations, the actions you just reported about the post office -- this is as if we were under attack from a foreign enemy," Van Hollen told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on "The Situation Room."
"What's so sad about it is that it's an attack on our democracy from within, instigated by the President of the United States," the Maryland Democrat said. "These are the kinds of forces you would normally see protecting us from an external enemy, and yet here we are, trying to protect ourselves from a violent mob -- and people who have been lied to; people who believe the President when he says he was cheated out of an election. We are going to have to come to grips with this."
Many state capitols are also ramping up security to avoid being caught flat-footed as US Capitol Police were on January 6. With the FBI warning last week that "armed protests" are being planned in all 50 states, Michigan State Police, for example, have mobilized personnel from across the state to secure the state Capitol in Lansing in coordination with the FBI and the National Guard.
Michigan, in particular, is familiar with the threats posed by armed protesters, who gathered last spring to demonstrate against restrictions related to Covid-19. With demonstrations expected Sunday, a fence has been erected around the state Capitol, and Lansing Mayor Andy Schor asked Michiganders to stay out of the downtown area and avoid engaging "with demonstrators who come to our city with ill intentions."
The Michigan House and Senate have canceled sessions Tuesday through Thursday because of "credible threats." And Airbnb is also reviewing reservations booked around Lansing during inauguration week, saying they will cancel reservations booked by guests associated with violent hate groups.
Trump's final days
Unwilling to take responsibility for the fear that has rippled across the nation after watching the January 6 attacks, Trump remained out of sight at the White House this weekend -- still stripped of the ability to communicate with his followers via major social media channels like Facebook and Twitter.
But in what appeared to be another overtly political move at the 11th hour, his administration tried install a Trump loyalist as the top lawyer at the National Security Agency -- a civil servant job, not a political appointment -- who would be harder to fire after Biden takes office, sources told CNN.
Eschewing the customary handoff between presidents on Inauguration Day, Trump plans to head to Palm Beach, Florida, hours before Biden takes the oath of office. But Trump remains keenly interested in how he will be celebrated when he leaves the White House for the last time, contemplating a departure ceremony that could include a red carpet, a color guard, a military band and even a 21-gun salute, an administration official told CNN's Jim Acosta.
Trump is also preoccupied in these final days with building a legal team to defend him during his upcoming impeachment trial, as a number of high-profile advisers who defended him the last time he faced a Senate trial make it clear they are not interested in this second round. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to send the article of impeachment to the Senate this week.
The President has resisted calls from his aides to give a final speech recounting the accomplishments of the administration. Instead, Pence -- who will be attending Biden's inauguration -- continues to be the public-facing leader of the administration, traveling to Naval Air Station Lemoore in California on Saturday to give a speech touting the administration's national security achievements.
"The American people are grateful," Pence told sailors as he thanked them for their service on behalf of the Trump administration. "And I want to assure you that you have our deepest respects for the selflessness and courage that you personify every day."
The vice president argued that the military is now "more equipped than ever" and added -- with no irony, even though parts of the nation are currently locked down under heavy guard -- that he was "proud to say, with just a few days left in this administration, this is the first administration in decades not to get America into a new war."
Biden readies first-day executive actions
While it has been hard for Biden to capture the nation's attention after the security breach at the Capitol, his team revealed new details Saturday about how Americans could take part in the inauguration activities from home and his incoming chief of staff Ron Klain released a memo detailing the executive actions Biden would take on his first day of office to reverse some of the policies of the Trump administration, including rejoining the Paris climate accord and rescinding the ban on travel from predominantly Muslim countries.
Biden rolled out his first signature legislative initiative this past week when he announced his $1.9 trillion relief package to mitigate the economic damage wrought by the coronavirus pandemic and expand and accelerate the delivery of the Covid-19 vaccine across the United States.
On Saturday, Klain's memo said Biden would also sign orders halting evictions and giving relief from student loan payments to those struggling financially because of the pandemic, while also instituting a mask mandate at federal sites and for travel between states. The President-elect has challenged Americans to mask up in his first 100 days in office.
Biden also plans to introduce an immigration plan within his first 100 days that would include a pathway to citizenship for many undocumented immigrants living in the United States. In late January and early February, he also intends to ask the federal government to devise a system for reuniting children separated from their families at the US-Mexico border and will focus on moving criminal justice reform.
"These actions are just the start of our work," Klain wrote in the memo. "Much more will need to be done to fight COVID-19, build our economy back better, combat systemic racism and inequality, and address the existential threat of the climate crisis. But by February 1st, America will be moving in the right direction on all four of these challenges — and more — thanks to President-elect Joe Biden's leadership."
Jim Acosta, Josh Campbell, Jeremy Diamond, Jamie Gangel, Dan Merica, Peter Morris, Artemis Moshtaghian, David Shortell and Carolyn Sung contributed to this report.