The Army’s ranking civilian leader, officer and enlisted soldier signed a statement Wednesday condemning the breach of the U.S. Capitol last week as an attack on the democratic process and warned soldiers that the military has no role in determining the outcomes of elections.
The statement, sent over social media by Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville, labels the Jan. 6 riot “an attack on the U.S. Congress and our constitutional democracy,” and follows a similar statement by the Joint Chiefs the day prior.
But the notable presence of veterans among the rioters who broke into the Capitol, combined with the fact that it left five people dead, has raised the question of whether quicker condemnations are needed in the future.
“We defend the rights of every American, and we protect the roles of our institutions of democracy. We remind all soldiers and civilians to uphold the Army’s apolitical standards,” reads the statement signed by McConville, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston. “Democratic elections are a constitutional right, and the military has no role in determining their outcome.”
Though the Capitol riot was contained that same day, the FBI has warned of armed protests in D.C. and at capital cities across all 50 states ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.
The number of National Guardsmen deployed to D.C. could swell to 15,000 by the start of next week, and those troops providing security around the Capitol building complex will be armed with lethal weapons.
Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula, retweeted the joint chiefs’ statement, adding: “We’ve been discussing this here in Korea since last Thursday.”
“There is no ambiguity of what occurred at the Capitol — that was an attempted insurrection,” said Abrams, a general officer known for his outreach on social media. “If you are serving in uniform and think it was something else, I would encourage you to sit down and read the constitution that you swore an oath to support and defend. No gray area there either. No room on our team if you are not willing to defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign AND domestic.”
Mike Jason, a retired Army colonel who has voiced dissatisfaction with the Pentagon brass’ response time, said leaders must be “very visible” with an “unequivocal message about what we all saw, what is acceptable and what we will do about it.”
Jason said a good example of what’s needed can be seen in a video made by the senior officer of the Australian Army four years ago, which bluntly addressed sexual assault in that country’s ground service.
Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., an Army veteran, welcomed the clear language from the three Army leaders Wednesday. Crow spoke with McCarthy this weekend and expressed “grave concerns” about reports that active-duty and reserve military members “were involved in the insurrection” at the Capitol.
“This is a time for clear and decisive leadership from the military and law enforcement community,” Crow, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, said on Twitter. “To meet the challenge of domestic terrorism, leaders at all levels should be vocal and proactive. Thank you to the Army for leading by example.”
Hundreds of President Donald Trump’s supporters overwhelmed police and occupied the Capitol building during the riot. The mob mayhem followed a speech by the president in which he repeated unsupported claims that the 2020 election had been rigged against him and urged his supporters to “fight like hell.”
The number of veterans who were among the rioters remains unknown, though some noteworthy individuals have been identified.
A retired Air Force fighter pilot was photographed with zip-tie handcuffs and in combat kit on the Senate floor. A former Navy SEAL chief’s role in the mob is also being questioned after a video was recovered of him boasting of the breach and saying how he hoped “the message was strong enough.”
Another man named Lonnie Coffman, 70, was also arrested and charged after prosecutors said he brought five loaded weapons and 11 Molotov cocktails to D.C. The incendiary devices consisted of mason jars filled with gasoline and melted Styrofoam, which has a sticky effect similar to napalm when detonated against an object.
Coffman’s defense attorney, Tony Miles, has said the man served in the Army, including a stint in Vietnam. Army officials could not verify Coffman’s service, but said his records could be stored at the National Archives. Army Times has filed a request for those documents.
The origins of two pipe bombs found near the Republican and Democratic national committee headquarters in D.C. are still being investigated. The FBI is offering a $50,000 reward for information regarding those devices, which had igniters and timers.
An Army spokesperson said Tuesday that the service is working with the FBI do determine whether any active-duty soldiers participated in the riot, which also killed Capitol Hill police officer Brian Sicknick, an Air National Guard veteran who was struck in the head with a fire extinguisher.
The Army’s 1st Special Forces Command is also investigating whether Capt. Emily Rainey, 30, a psychological operations officer based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, acted against regulations during the Jan. 6 events.
Maj. Dan Lessard, a spokesman for 1st Special Forces Command, said Monday that it’s unclear if Rainey violated any laws or regulations, “as the DoD encourages members of the Armed Forces to carry out the obligation of citizenship, so long as their actions are in keeping with DoD policy and do not impair the good order and discipline of the service.”
“At this time there is no indication any other members of the command were present at the Capitol,” Lessard added.
Rainey had been handed down an adverse administrative action for an earlier protest incident and ultimately resigned her commission this fall, though she was still on active duty during the protest. Rainey said she did not enter the Capitol building and behaved appropriately.
Department of Justice officials have said they’re still sifting through video footage and witness accounts of the Capitol riots that have not been made public.
Over the past week, the department has opened hundreds of case files, “and that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Steven D’Antuono, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office, said Wednesday.
“People are going to be shocked with some of the egregious conduct that happened within the Capitol,” acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin also said Wednesday. “No resource related to the FBI or the U.S. attorney’s office will be untapped to determine if there was command and control, how it operated and how they executed these activities.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer