The Pentagon has approved a request by the mayor of Washington D.C. to activate 340 members of the D.C. National Guard to assist law enforcement ahead of Wednesday's planned demonstrations scheduled for when Congress is expected to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election.
The unarmed guardsmen will work in shifts to help man traffic control checkpoints in the city's downtown area to free up D.C. police officers who could be needed to respond should the protests turn violent.
Local and federal law enforcement authorities are expecting thousands of demonstrators to converge on the nation's capital on Wednesday to protest the certification of President-elect Joe Biden's victory. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has urged local residents to avoid the downtown area out of concern that far-right supporters of President Donald Trump may act out violently.
"Approximately 340 personnel will support the city government Jan. 5 to 7 by providing crowd control at several Metro stations and assist police with street closures at multiple intersections to provide safety in and around pedestrian areas," according to a statement issued by the D.C. National Guard.
"The Capital guardsmen will also support D.C. Fire and Emergency Management Services with specially trained Civil Support Team personnel. Guardsmen are prepared to respond to augment the main missions, should additional personnel be required," the statement continued.
Mayor Bowser requested the activation on Dec. 31 and the request was approved Monday by the acting defense secretary, said a senior defense official. Unlike other states' National Guards -- whose activation is controlled by state governors -- the responsibility for the D.C. National Guard falls to the Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, who then must have the decision approved by the defense secretary.
The activation of 1,600 D.C. guardsmen last summer during Black Lives Matter protests proved controversial as Bowser had said at the time that she had not requested their activation.
The National Guard's use of helicopters to disperse demonstrators led to an investigation by the Army’s Inspector General that is being reviewed by the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General.
The 340 guardsmen activated Monday will work in day and night shifts, with approximately 100 working at any given time, manning more than 30 traffic control checkpoints in the downtown area according to defense officials. No National Guard helicopters were requested by Bowser.
“No one's going to be armed or (wearing) body armor or anything like that,” said the official. “What they need is traffic control.”
Placing the National Guardsmen at the checkpoints will help free up an equal number of D.C. police officers who could “be closer to the demonstrations in the event that there's a violent act they be in a position to respond much, much more quickly and effectively so it just gives them much more flexibility and greater density of support,” said the official.
“We think it's helpful to have our D.C. guardsmen, who are our guard, that I have requested from the Secretary of the Army to assist MPD with traffic management,” Bowser said Monday. "It absolutely frees up more officers.”
D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee labeled any possibility of violence surrounding the protests as “unacceptable” and restated that carrying firearms at the protests is not allowed under D.C., law as it is not an open-carry jurisdiction.
In addition to the traffic presence, the D.C. Guard will also have a chemical-biological response team available to local authorities.