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Threats of ‘armed protests’ in several cities challenge National Guard’s support for inauguration

Neighboring states may need to reserve members of the National Guard to protect their own facilities and personnel, which may limit the ability of the Department of Defense to call on them for further assistance.

“We do not want to pull too much out of their states and put them at risk, so a very delicate risk management process is underway,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said in an interview.

In response to the threat, guards in Washington will carry their firearms, said two defense officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Capitol Police are asking for help on Jan. 6 when pro-Trump rebels smashed into the Capitol building, while Pentagon officials said inadequate planning meant they were unable to respond immediately. As part of their efforts to ensure a more robust military response, officials plan to station up to 1

5,000 guard members – or potentially more – in and around the country’s capital.

McCarthy was to meet with senior officials from the FBI, Secret Service and other agencies to finalize plans Tuesday afternoon. As of Wednesday, security guards are taking part in security tests, indicating increased efforts around an inauguration already marked by concern over the coronavirus pandemic and threats of violence from supporters of President Trump.

The Pentagon’s attempts to calibrate its position ahead of more planned protests underscore the balancing act it has attempted – sometimes without success – in recent months. Defense officials have tried to avoid the electoral policy charged and manage the unpleasant reality that their commander-in-chief has used more and more aggressive tactics to undermine the 2020 election.

In an unusual public statement Tuesday, General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other top military leaders acknowledged Biden’s impending rise to the presidency, calling the uprising “a direct attack on the US Congress, the Capitol Building. and our constitutional process. ”

“We support and defend the Constitution,” the Joint Chiefs, composed of senior military officers from each service, said in a statement. “Any action to disrupt the constitutional process is not only against our traditions, values ​​and oaths; it is against the law. ”

The Joint Chiefs also confirmed that Biden would take over as the 46th Commander-in-Chief and urged service members to reflect the nation’s ideals. The message came after a number of rebels turned out to be military veterans.

Unlike in the summer, when the Pentagon was blamed for participating in an overly aggressive response to protests over racial discrimination and police violence, the Pentagon was accused last week of failing to come to the aid of overwhelmed local officials when chaos flooded Capitol Hill.

Officials from the Capitol Police and the DC government have said the Pentagon responded slowly to urgent requests for military assistance and initially denied assistance beyond a small force of Guard members monitoring traffic jams. Pentagon officials, meanwhile, have accused Capitol Police and DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) of not requesting adequate assistance in advance and then expecting part-time soldiers to show up immediately.

Even as the allegations continue, Pentagon officials have, for the second time in a year, adjusted the decision-making process for the DC National Guard in hopes of ensuring a smooth response. Unlike January 6, when Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller had to sign the activation of additional DC Guard members, McCarthy now has the ability to hire Guard personnel and equipment he deems appropriate, without unsubscribing at a higher level.

Because Washington DC is not a state, the president acts as the DC Guard’s commander, as governors do elsewhere. Under a 1969 decree, the President delegated this authority to the Secretary of Defense, who could then delegate it further. In recent history, the Army Secretary has served as a guard commander.

That was the case in June when DC Guard members were present when uniformed federal staff forcibly cleared crowds of protesters and a DC Guard helicopter flew dangerously low over protesters.

After the June events, “next time we have to set much tighter limits on the left for this type of activity,” McCarthy said, referring to the limits set by Congress for the use of military forces beginning this month.

The Department of Defense is leaning forward to deliver all it can, McCarthy said.

“The key for us is if a request for a certain capacity is made and we can legally deliver it,” McCarthy said. “We will do what we have to do to support this initiation.”

As Trump, now deprived of his platform on Twitter, only indirectly refers to his election loss, the FBI warns against intelligence suggesting that “armed protests” could occur in all 50 states as his supporters try to keep him in office.

Already, Michigan city officials have asked Government Grytchen Whitmer (D) to activate the state National Guard ahead of planned protests at the Capitol. Conservative protests have rocked Michigan for several months, culminating in a foiled right-wing extremist plot to kidnap Whitmer.

“Michigan already had a dress rehearsal,” said Lansing City Council Chairman Peter Spadafore. “When people tell you in advance that they want to be violent, we should take them at their word.”

In the state of Washington, government Jay Inslee (D) has authorized 750 guards to support law enforcement operations to defend the Capitol.

Pentagon officials suggested that further Guard activations could follow in the coming days. As DC’s relatively small guard tries to prepare for further violence, it is already getting along with colleagues from states including New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and Minnesota. They are likely to stay both in hotels in Washington and at military installations.

Pentagon officials have said that before the Jan. 6 protest, which began with a demonstration in which Trump spoke near the White House and culminated in the Capitol crash, they received no intelligence indicating that there would be a major or violent protest.

The Department of Defense does not conduct domestic surveillance or threat tracking that does not involve the military, meaning it is dependent on federal law enforcement.

McCarthy denied allegations by officials, including Bowser and Steven Sund, who resigned after the uprising from his position as chief of the Capitol Police, and denied the Pentagon had held back because of loyalty to Trump. He said the Pentagon responded in response to requests from the city and the Capitol Police, which explicitly asked for a limited, unarmed National Guard role.

That suddenly changed as rebels converged on the Capitol. “When the calls started coming in, it was all under duress; it was very challenging to understand, ”McCarthy said. “No one could formulate what was really going on.”

When the alarming picture began to emerge, ”we ran down the hall at the Pentagon. We tried to address this, ”McCarthy said. “And when we got moving, we moved as fast as possible from a cold start, not configured to take a reaction.”

Another defense official stressed that federal law enforcement was better placed to clear the Capitol building itself than members of the DC Guard.

“It would have been a very bad job to get the guard to clear these buildings,” said the other official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the problem. “If you’ve ever cleared buildings with people who don’t live off of it, you can make some very challenging types of things happen.” Instead, the guard later helped federal and local law enforcement restore the perimeter around the Capitol and its grounds.

Officials acknowledged a disturbing stream of right-wing ideology in the military. The second defense minister said the military is trying to resolve the issue ahead of preparations for the inauguration. But officials have also said they will not be able to screen all involved National Guard members for extremist affiliations that some lawmakers have requested.

Alex Horton contributed to this report.

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