THE 20,000 NATIONAL Guard troops preparing for pro-Trump demonstrations this weekend in the nation’s capital will be armed and permitted to use lethal force, the headquarters overseeing them says, marking a striking escalation in the way authorities there are preparing for repeat violence after last week’s deadly mob.
“On January 12, 2021, National Guardsmen were given authorization to be armed in support of the U.S. Capitol Police to protect the U.S. Capitol and individual members of Congress and their staff,” according to a statement from the D.C. National Guard, which is commanding Guard forces in the city, including units deployed from six other states, to provide security for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week.
A defense official confirmed the authorization includes permission for Guard troops to use lethal force.
The request came from federal authorities and was approved by Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy – who oversees D.C. Guard deployments since the District is not a state – indicating it was not a request from the local government.
The Guard forces there to date have performed an unarmed support role, such as directing traffic and logistical support to free up more civilian law enforcement officers to help protect the Capitol and other sensitive sites in D.C. That will change with the new authorization.
“Guardsmen are trained in the use of lethal and less-than-lethal force, de-escalation techniques, as well as the use of protective equipment. This is standard for civil disturbance response missions,” according to the statement. “The National Guard is proud to support the Secret Service, U.S. Capitol Police and Park Police who are leading the security efforts during the events for the 59th Presidential Inauguration.”
The sudden shift in authorities serves as the latest example of the security response to last week’s deadly siege on the Capitol. A mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the building and delayed Congress’ certification of Biden’s electoral victory shortly after the president concluded a rally roughly a mile away on the National Mall.
The swiftness of the response to a historic security blunder was also evident in widely shared pictures on Wednesday of National Guard forces sleeping in makeshift groups on the floor of the Capitol Visitor’s Center and other hallways in the building.
The D.C. Guard says the forces were just resting, and that the Capitol was not where they would be lodging. Nonetheless, the National Guard headquarters at the Pentagon also had to announce late Wednesday that it could not receive “comfort items” for the troops amid an outpouring of support from “many well-meaning and thoughtful citizens.”
“While we appreciate the many offers and people who care about our soldiers and airmen, we are not logistically able to accept donations of any kind,” it said. “Thank you for caring about your citizen-soldiers and airmen.”
National Guard troops have been a part of every Inauguration since George Washington’s, according to its Pentagon headquarters.