Protests, security, Army tanks abound for July 4th celebrations
July 3 (UPI) — The Fourth of July celebration in Washington, D.C., will have greater military undertones this year — particularly with a number of tanks dotting the city for the national holiday Thursday.
The Salute to America event will include a speech by President Donald Trump at the Lincoln Memorial and two fireworks shows.
With Trump there, protesters will also demonstrate en masse against what they call the “militarization” of the July 4th holiday. The rally will include CODEPINK’s infamous “Baby Trump” blimp, though it may not fly as high as usual. The permit given by the National Park Service requires the balloon be filled with cold air, not helium.
“We plan to fly the Baby Trump blimp, hopefully with helium, and if not, with air,” said CODEPINK Co-director Ariel Gold.
Security is tight for events across the United States. Federal authorities warned this week white supremacists and other political radicals could attack Independence Day celebrations. The FBI, Department of Homeland Security and National Counter-terrorism Center urged law enforcement personnel to remain vigilant.
Officials said they’re “unaware of any current plots specifically targeting such events.”
“We note that attacks can occur with little to no warning because of the frequently lower levels of security around civilian targets, challenges in securing large crowds, and calls for attacks against soft targets.”
Celebrations in Washington will also include flyovers of the Navy’s Blue Angels, Air Force One and the new Marine One helicopter. Two Navy F-35C Joint Strike Fighters will fly in from California to participate in the flyover. Other aircraft will include an F-22 Raptor, B-2 Stealth bomber and F/A-18E Hornets.
The military theme likely draws its inspiration from France’s Bastille Day parade, which Trump has previously hailed and cited as an example for a similar showing in the United States.
“The Pentagon & our great Military Leaders are thrilled to be doing this & showing to the American people, among other things, the strongest most advanced Military anywhere in the World. Incredible flyovers & biggest ever Fireworks,” Trump tweeted.
Trump tried to put together a military-type parade at various points last year, but such a display — estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars — was criticized by many as too expensive. Trump‘s July 4th plans are receiving similar complaints.
“There’s going to be a big price tag for this and the taxpayers will have to pick up the tab,” said Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
There’s no firm estimate on how much the added military show will cost.
“The cost to DoD for support to the Salute to America is undetermined at this time,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell said. “The DoD will collect all associated cost data from the individual services.”
The first fireworks show itself has been donated by Phantom Fireworks and Fireworks by Grucci. It will launch from behind the Lincoln Memorial and will last about 15 to 20 minutes. The second is set at a new location in West Potomac Park.
The military could call its participation a training mission, which is included in the defense budgets. The B-2 Stealth flight alone costs $122,000 per hour to fly and Air Force One $200,000 an hour.
Some veterans groups are concerned Trump is mixing Independence Day with a partisan agenda.
“In our increasingly divided society, Independence Day is one where all Americans can celebrate the great gift of freedom together,” CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Jeremy Butler wrote in Time magazine.
“We are not going to judge how the president of the United States chooses to celebrate Independence Day,” Veterans of Foreign Wars Communications Director Joe Davis said.
Extra care is being taken to ensure the military vehicles don’t damage roads, a defense official told ABC News.