Business owners are taking precautions to prepare for further unrest, in the wake of chaos on Capitol Hill.
After pro-Trump extremists, calling themselves "insurrectionists," pushed past police to successfully breach the U.S. Capitol building, lawmakers temporarily halted their certification of President-elect Joe Biden's election victory on January 6. The resulting tumult led many area businesses to seek the aid of private security firms, as the potential for violence after dark--and even prolonged days of rioting--reached a fever pitch around midday. The rest of the country's business owners fear the lasting economic consequences of an unsettled democracy.
Rudo Robinson's phone has been ringing off the hook. He's the CEO of Trust Security & Fire Services, one of the country's fastest-growing private security firms, based just south of Washington, in Fort Washington, Maryland. Business owners have been on the other end of the phone, asking him and other firms like his for short-term security guards to help prevent potential property destruction.
It's a precautionary move. So far, the city's violence has been restricted to federal property, leaving private businesses almost entirely unaffected. But D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser instituted a citywide 12-hour curfew beginning at 6 p.m. Eastern time in response to the protests, and Robinson is preparing for what might happen now that the mob has been cleared out of the Capitol building. "At night is when people with real ill intent come out and do bad things," he says. "When you have civil unrest, you usually have business owners concerned about the safety of their buildings."
Much of the risk, Robinson notes, is centered on construction sites, residential buildings, and office spaces--rather than retail storefronts, since many are already closed or boarded up due to Covid-19. There is, of course, a risk of virus transmission for local businesses suddenly hosting large numbers of protesters on short notice; some Trump supporters who attended the day's rally packed themselves into local bars, according to videos posted to Twitter:
The situation could worsen for small-business owners if the protests drag on for days. Robinson says that's extremely unlikely, noting that Washington has an unusually high number of police departments, along with soldiers who were called in from the D.C. National Guard and bordering states like Virginia--all of which are trained to stifle such protests. "If you've never been exposed to [pepper] spray, it is a very negative experience," he says. "I can't imagine why these protesters are sitting here. The last thing I want to do is take a hit of pepper spray."
What else stings? Running a company at a time of massive uncertainty, which is only exacerbated by the nation's democratic principles coming under fire.
That's the clearest takeaway from a statement released by the the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)--which represents 14,000 U.S. companies, from small businesses to large corporations. In the statement, NAM CEO Jay Timmons referred to protesters as "armed thugs" and demanded a cease to the violence. "We are trying to rebuild an economy and save and rebuild lives," said Timmons. "But none of that will matter if our leaders refuse to fend off this attack on America and our democracy--because our very system of government, which underpins our very way of life, will crumble."
The statement is an escalation of rhetoric from the business community, following an open letter to Congress on Monday signed by nearly 200 business leaders including the co-founders of Lyft, Zagat, Warby Parker, Casper, Palantir, and more. The letter demanded that Congress certify the electoral vote and smooth the path for an orderly presidential transfer of power--which is exactly what Wednesday's protesters gathered to prevent.