WASHINGTON – Despite terror alerts for major Fourth of July events across the country, Washingtonians and visitors to the capital said they expect business as usual here, making it code red, white and blue for the upcoming holiday.
"We’re not going to be afraid being in our own country," said Walt Gibbs, who is visiting Washington from Roanoke Rapids, N.C., with his wife Ann and their children. "As far as feeling threatened, absolutely not."
People who work and live in the metro area Monday were as much aware of the heightened Independence Day threats as they were that it was a Code Red day in the district. But the red was for high ozone levels, not terror.
Outside, the pollutant levels were high, and the air so humid that the Metropolitan Council of Governments declared the day Code Red Ozone Action Day, not to be confused with the Code Yellow alert that the entire country is under for terrorist threats. Still, some Washingtonians treated both alerts about the same.
"You can’t stop living because of it," Aaron Sawyer, a representative for the Teamsters Union, said of the terror alerts, though he could have been talking about the weather.
Nevertheless, Sawyer said he would not be attending the annual Fourth of July program on the Mall, which this year will be under strict security measures as tens of thousands of people descend on the National Mall for the festivities.
Others don’t know how to decipher the current alerts. The government has warned over the last several months that terrorists can strike anywhere at anytime, with many targets to choose from: dams, nuclear power plants, parks, malls, reservoirs, trains, bridges and government monuments.
"They got people walking around all scared," said Katrina Mitchell, who works in D.C. and says there is just too much information out there to digest. "People just don’t know whether to believe the threats or what."
"It seems a bit paranoid," on one hand, "but just plain cautious," on the other, said Kathy, an employee at the Library of Congress who didn’t want her last name used. "I’m not going down to the Mall with my daughter this year, I’ve made that decision. It breaks my heart."
"I have no faith in the intelligence community," said Tia Gayle, who is a federal worker. "I think there will be another terrorist attack but it won’t be the same. It could be anywhere, anytime."
Those seeds of discontent may be exactly what terror groups are hoping for. On Sunday, representatives of the Al Qaeda terrorist group released an audiotape via the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news network promising more attacks against American and Jewish targets.
In a recent Time magazine survey, 57 percent of Americans believe a terrorist attack on the Fourth of July is likely, and 39 percent said the risk of another terrorist attack overall is "high."
But public sentiment hasn't seemed to affect everyday life in the nation’s capital, nor does it seem to be stopping anyone from visiting. The Union Station bus and train epicenter was teeming Monday with tour groups and families on summer vacation. Some remarked at how pleasant the experience has been and how secure they feel.
"I think they’re doing a good level of security," said Tom Nelson, who is visiting with his family from Kansas.
"I also think they’re doing it in a way where it's not at all threatening," said his wife Lynn. "And what I’ve seen has been appropriate."
Lt. Dan Nichols of the U.S. Capitol Police said it will keep up the security precautions by placing a secured perimeter around the Fourth of July program on the Capitol complex where the annual concert will be held. Spectators must pass through metal detectors at four open checkpoints before they can attend the concert, and the Capitol Police will be lending 600 officers to security on the Mall, which will be run by U.S. Park Police.
In the meantime, officials at the Council of Governments reported no confusion Monday over their own Code Red alert, which they expect will be issued anywhere from twice to seven times this year, depending on the weather, according to Lorrie Pearson, a spokeswoman for the agency.
"Hopefully it won't become an issue, but of course if it does, we'll have to do something about it," she said.