It’s hard to know which category to post this in. It’s certainly not “National Security.” That’s really the point, in fact. There’s no good reason for thousands of National Guard troops to still be deployed in and around the U.S. Capitol, considering that the FBI has consistently said it has no intelligence on threats to the inauguration or any other activities in the area since supposed “armed protests” failed to materialize on 17 January.
We’ll call it “Politics.”
On Thursday, as reported by Politico and local news outlets, National Guard troops resting in an area of the Dirksen Senate Office Building were told to vacate the building and move to a parking garage for their rest periods. The troops have been standing 12-hour duty shifts, and sitting or reclining on the floors inside for their rest breaks. Temperatures outside have been in the 40s and 50s, according to weather reports.
According to Politico, the unit “was abruptly told to vacate the facility [in the Dirksen Building] on Thursday, according to one Guardsman. The group was forced to rest in a nearby parking garage without internet reception, with just one electrical outlet, and one bathroom with two stalls for 5,000 troops, the person said. Temperatures in Washington were in the low 40s by nightfall.”
The optics, as one may imagine, were awful.
MILITARY SOURCE IN DC:
“For the last week my battalion has been sleeping on the floor in the Senate cafeteria. Today the Senate kicked us out & moved us to a cold parking garage.
1 power outlet.
This is how Joe Biden’s America treats solders.”
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) January 22, 2021
The Politico report has been updated in somewhat choppy fashion, but it does appear that the order to vacate and take rest periods in the garage applied to all the troops deployed in Capitol complex buildings: “All National Guard troops were told to vacate the Capitol and nearby congressional buildings on Thursday … another Guardsman confirmed.”
The lawmakers were incensed when they heard about it, and reportedly, the situation has since been rectified, with the troops being readmitted to the buildings to take their rest on the floors inside.
Getting results >> Within 4 hours of our story posting, all National Guard units in the parking garages have been ordered to return inside the Capitol.
— Andrew Desiderio (@AndrewDesiderio) January 22, 2021
Naturally, there has been much finger-pointing, with the Capitol Police being blamed for the order to vacate. Opinion has been predictable from all sides (one Twitter user launched into a lecture pointing out that there’s never a guarantee of Internet service, and she didn’t know why the troops were whining about it. Others chimed in with exactly the ratio readers would imagine on that topic. On the whole, the social media dialogue was the opposite of a quality learning experience).
People long familiar with organizing deployments of this kind (granted, there really are no other deployments of this kind) have been impatient with the apparent disconnects and seeming failures of planning or foresight. I have to say I take a somewhat different view.
The Guard deployment could be seen as an overreaction bordering on insanity. Deploying more than 20,000 soldiers into Washington, D.C. could not have been justified for any purpose, even total lockdown. It didn’t take anywhere near that many to man checkpoints adequate to keep the whole National Mall and its surrounding streets empty on Inauguration Day, and severely limit movement on the days immediately preceding it. It was utterly ridiculous to see a mass of troops standing in clumps of dozens all along the Mall as the motorcade took the new president and vice president to the Capitol: troops in massive numbers with no task other than to watch empty space for a threat that couldn’t possibly be there to begin with.
Inauguration Day now having passed, my question is why they’re still there. I believe I understand why they were deployed in the first place. It wasn’t just because Congress and federal agencies asked for them. It was because Trump had no intention of letting anything get out of hand again, as it did on 6 January.
Readers will believe whatever narratives they choose on who created the 6 January situation; it’s not a credible narrative, that people with no history of ever mounting such an attack (i.e., typical Trump rally-goers) suddenly did so, but it is apparent that some extremely foolish people who ought to have known better did join in the Capitol building incursion, once a crazy quilt of fringe-group perpetrators from “both ends” of the political spectrum had gotten things started. (There are also serious questions as to why Capitol Police in at least two instances literally moved barricades to allow non-threatening crowds to proceed, in a peaceful but wholly unauthorized manner, into the Capitol.)
In any case, recall that until noon on 20 January, the troops were under the command of President Trump. They weren’t there “because Biden” or “because Pelosi,” neither of whom had the authority to put them in D.C. They were there because Trump authorized and had command of their deployment. I conclude that his purpose was to preempt anything that anyone could possibly be planning, from Antifa and BLM to neo-Nazis and skinheads. He wasn’t going to have anyone else killed — and since Pelosi was in fact calling for a troop deployment, he was obliging her with the posture of utterly preemptive preparedness.
Since noon on Wednesday, the troops have been under President Biden’s command, and remain in D.C. on his authority. That’s what causes me to be curious as to why they’re still there. The media don’t seem curious at all. If there is intelligence on a lingering threat, the media aren’t asking about it or informing the public. Their lack of interest in this matter has been striking, actually.
I’m as irritated as the next person to see the Guard sent to take rest periods in a parking garage. But my real question is why they’re still on duty at all. It takes time to load them up for redeployment to their states, but I can’t see why they have to stand around for no good reason in the Capitol complex while they’re waiting. The answer to that question may not scratch as many itches as the one about who is tacky enough to send the troops to rest in a parking garage – but it would illuminate a lot more about what’s going on in America’s highest political echelon right now.