The military has officially been in Washington, D.C. for 50 days following the Capitol riot earlier this year, but it’s still unclear how long troops will stay there.
The initial plan in early January was to provide approximately 340 National Guard troops to support the city government during protests expected to take place on Jan. 6, the day that the Senate was expected to certify the election.
However, the protest turned into a deadly riot, and a mob of former President Donald Trump’s supporters breached the Capitol building, requiring additional support from the National Guard. Authorities also had to consider the security of Biden’s upcoming inauguration, prompting an additional deployment.
Fifty days later, officials have offered mixed responses to questions about whether there remains a security threat warranting the current number of troops in the Capitol. It’s also unclear how long troops will be required to stay at their posts.
Republican Florida Sen. Rick Scott asked officials during a Feb. 23 hearing why the National Guard was still in D.C., and if there was still a security threat.
“Do you have any threat assessment you’ve seen that there’s a reason we have the National Guard here today?” Scott asked. After receiving no response, he asked “Is that a no from everybody? No one has any reason, any idea why we have the National Guard here?”
It’s time to reevaluate the rationale for keeping them in D.C. & get them back home. pic.twitter.com/Wjqh2LwHAo
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) February 23, 2021
Former Capitol Police chief Steven Sund, who left the department 2 days after the riot cited “what occurred on Jan. 6 … unprecedented insurrection” as a reason for the National Guard’s continued presence.
Security and law enforcement officials have given equivocal responses in the weeks after the riot and inauguration about security threats, and about a date that troops would leave D.C.
The timeline began on Jan. 4 when the 340 D.C. National Guard personnel were activated at the request of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Dr. Christopher Rodriguez, director of the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. The troops were deployed to act in a support role for the Metropolitan Police Department in order to control traffic and metro stations during the protests that were going to take place later that week.
Two days later, the riot at the Capitol Building happened, and Defense Department officials confirmed they would deploy the D.C. National Guard. U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said on Jan. 7 that 6,200 troops would be in D.C. by the weekend, from states including Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and New York, according to NBC Washington.
The D.C. National Guard was placed on a 30-day mobilization, which would keep troops in D.C. for Biden’s inauguration and beyond, defense officials told NBC. The Maryland National Guard would also stay until at least the end of January, while the roughly 2,000 troops from Virginia’s National Guard would stay until at least the Jan. 20 inauguration. Acting D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee also announced on Jan. 7 that a seven-foot non-scalable fence would be installed around the whole Capitol and would remain for at least 30 days, NPR reported. (RELATED: Video Footage Shows Fencing And Guards Surrounding Capitol Ahead Of Biden’s Inauguration)
Biden’s inauguration had the largest security presence of any inauguration in American history, with nearly 25,000 troops in place at the Capitol, according to OPB. There were no significant incidents at the inauguration.
In early February, it was estimated that the U.S. spent nearly $500 million to deploy the nearly 26,000 National Guard troops to Washington, D.C..
About 10,600 troops remained on duty after the inauguration, while 15,000 were in the process of returning to their home states, Military Times reported on Jan. 21. Nearly 7,000 troops were told to remain in D.C. through the end of January.
Following reports that troops were staying inside a parking garage near the Capitol Building, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott each ordered their respective National Guard troops to return to leave Washington. D.C.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the situation “outrageous” and vowed to make sure it does not happen again.
If this is true, it’s outrageous.
I will get to the bottom of this.https://t.co/CNBp055A91
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 22, 2021
In the last week of January, Acting Secretary of the Army John Whitley said that although the Army doesn’t engage in intelligence work and relies on federal partners like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to provide information, the Army was aware that there were “several upcoming events,” according to Air Force Magazine.
“There are several upcoming events — we don’t know what they are — over the next several weeks, and they’re concerned that there could be situations where there are lawful protests, First Amendment-protected protests, that could either be used by malicious actors, or other problems that could emerge,” he said.
The number of troops decreased slightly to 5,000 by the time of Trump’s impeachment trial over the second week of February. Troops were tasked with protecting the Capitol from “impeachment security concerns,” but troops said they were given little information about the extension, which would last until mid-March, Politico reported.
“Quite frankly this is not a ‘combat zone,’ so combat conditions shouldn’t apply,” one Guard member who has deployed twice to Afghanistan told Politico.
“There is no defined situation, or mission statement. … This is very unusual for any military mission,” a Guard member told Politico. “We are usually given a situation, with defined mission perimeters, and at least a tentative plan on how to execute those objectives.”
“Some don’t even know how long they’ll be here,” another Guard member said.
Republican Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy questioned the need for thousands of National Guard troops in D.C. nearly a week after the inauguration took place, and told Tucker Carlson that “there’s razor wire, fences, barricades, humvees, automatic weapons, at one point they had tanks, and the news media is always filming this stuff.”
The entire D.C. National Guard will remain in D.C. until March 31 to support local and federal authorities during “anticipated First Amendment demonstrations and Civil Disturbance,” a memo obtained by Politico on Jan. 26 said.
The FBI announced Jan. 29 that two pipe bombs discovered at the Republican and Democratic national committees were planted the night before the Capitol riot, though they were not found until the next day.
A month and a week after the Jan. 6 breach, Trump was acquitted over his alleged role in inciting the riot. The day prior, an internal email obtained by Fox 5 revealed that the National Guard could remain in D.C. through the fall.
“If it’s not possible to sustain at the current level with NG personnel, we need to establish the number of NG personnel (DCNG and out-of-state) we can sustain for an extended period – at least through Fall 2021 – and understand additional options for providing DoD support, to include use of reserve personnel, as well as active component,” Robert Salesses, who began Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security, said in the email, according to Fox 5.
Senior defense officials told Fox News that the email was part of “internal deliberations” and “no decisions have been made.”
The National Guard told Fox 5 that it is “conducting prudent planning for the eventual end of the security mission and the return of its Soldiers and Airmen to their home stations.”
On Feb. 11, D.C. residents asked D.C. Delegate Eleanor Norton how long the National Guard would stay in the city, and how long the fencing would remain up, but speakers gave no straight answers, according to Fox 5. Norton said she was fine with troops staying longer if there was an ongoing threat, and that she preferred the National Guard over the fence.
Washington Democratic Rep. Adam Smith, who is on the House Armed Services Committee, said on Feb. 17 that nearly 5,000 troops would stay in Washington through March 12 partially because of the possibility that there could be violence stemming from QAnon supporters who suggested that Trump could still be inaugurated on March 4, the date that inaugurations took place until the 20th amendment was ratified in 1933, CNN reported.
Salesses told the Armed Services Committee Feb. 17 that he was not aware of any threats to Washington, D.C. “We obviously work with our law enforcement partners to determine that threat. That’s obviously continuing to evolve,” he said, according to Fox.
“At this time I’m not aware of a threat that is out there.” Smith also told the committee that he had reviewed security threats facing the Capitol and agreed that the threat remained low.
According to CNN, a growing number of Republicans have called for National Guardsmen to return to their home states, and Democrats have also expressed that the troops’ presence should not be permanent.
Lawmakers have also questioned the need for troops to remain in D.C. when other states including Florida, Texas, and California could use help with vaccine distribution and natural disaster response, according to Fox.
— KVUE News (@KVUE) February 21, 2021
However, concerns about March 4 are not the only reason some lawmakers have pushed for enhanced security at the Capitol.
U.S. Capitol Police acting chief Yogananda Pittman said Thursday that intelligence suggests extremists could be planning an attack when Biden holds his first official address to Congress.
“We know that members of the militia groups that were present on January 6th have stated their desires that they want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible with a direct nexus to the State of the Union, which we know that date has not been identified,” Pittman told lawmakers during a Thursday hearing, according to CNN.
Pittman did not elaborate on a timeline for returning troops to their home states or for removing the fencing, but said that “we have no intention of keeping the National Guard soldiers or that fencing any longer than what is actually needed.”
U.S. Capitol Police, the D.C. National Guard, and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication. The Army referred the Daily Caller to federal and local law enforcement agencies that requested National Guard support for information on any ongoing threats.