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Cache of airsoft guns near National Mall prompt big response in jittery U.S. capital

Authorities have been on edge since Jan. 6, and now they're preparing for another right-wing rally scheduled for Sept. 18.
The Capitol is seen past the Washington Monument as a flock of Geese fly over the National Mall on Feb. 15, 2021.
The Capitol seen past the Washington Monument as geese fly over the National Mall on Feb. 15.Samuel Corum / Getty Images

With Washington on edge over potential right-wing violence and domestic terrorism, a cache of what turned out to be replica toy guns prompted a massive response Saturday near the National Mall.

Two people were detained when authorities said they found a number of guns and rifles in a U-Haul truck parked near the city's Tidal Basin, which is strolling distance from the White House and the U.S. Capitol, U.S. Park Police said.

But the realistic-looking firearms were airsoft guns and rifles, which shoot nonlethal, plastic pellets at low velocity and are often used for games, tactical training and target practice. They're generally legal and not regulated as firearms.

The people detained cooperated with officers and were released, said Park Police Sgt. Roselyn Norment.

The Tidal Basin, next to the Potomac River, is surrounded by the Jefferson Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the FDR Memorial. During the investigation, police closed Maine Avenue between the National Mall and the Wharf, NBC Washington reported.

Medical first responders were staged at the scene as a precaution, the station said.

The area in and around the National Mall has been on high alert since the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. In August, a man identified as Floyd Ray Roseberry, 49, parked his pickup truck partially on the sidewalk outside the Library of Congress and engaged in an hours-long standoff as he allegedly claimed to have a bomb, although he did not.

Roseberry, who harbored complaints about the federal government, was later charged with threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction and threatening to use an explosive device. A judge ordered him to undergo medical evaluation.

Ten days after the Jan. 6 incursion, a Virginia man was arrested at a Washington checkpoint near the Capitol with an "unauthorized" inauguration pass, a gun and more than 500 rounds of ammunition, authorities said.

But the suspect, identified as Wesley Allen Beeler, 31, told the Washington Post it was "an honest mistake" because he was licensed to carry in nearby Virginia. He said he had been working as a security guard nearby, in downtown Washington, was running late, and forgot that his gun was in his vehicle.

He denied he had that much ammunition.

"I'm not a bad person," he said at the time. "I'm not connected to any hate groups."

Pressure on authorities who police the nation's most powerful institutions isn't letting up. A rally at the Capitol to support those arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 riot is scheduled for Sept. 18.

Michelle Acevedo and Jay Varela contributed.