As of Tuesday evening, National Guardsmen mobilized to the District of Columbia are authorized to carry deadly weapons while posted in and around the Capitol, the National Guard Bureau confirmed to Military Times on Wednesday.
There are now as many as 20,000 troops from around the country who have been authorized to assist local and federal law enforcement in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, until into early February, some with firearms in hand.
“This was requested by federal authorities and authorized by the Secretary of the Army,” according to a statement from NGB. “National Guard members are postured to meet the requirements of the supported civil authorities, up to and including protective equipment and being armed if necessary.”
National Guard troops have been activated in D.C. since Jan. 4, when Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy called up several hundred D.C. Guardsmen to help the Metropolitan Police Department with traffic control ahead of protests supporting President Donald Trump. Those troops did not carry weapons, keeping their body armor and helmets in their vehicles.
A week later, the scene has changed. Thousands of Guard troops from multiple states have converged on the capital, donning their personal protective gear as they stand guard at entrances to Capitol Hill and inside its buildings.
As their mission does not include law enforcement and is seen as a supportive, extra layer of security, they have not been carrying weapons, as they were not under previous authorization agreed upon by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, before the Jan. 6 breaching and ransacking of the Capitol building.
“The public’s safety is our top priority,” according to NGB’s statement.
The Guard’s presence around the Capitol now more closely mirrors its posture in early June, when days of protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement led to vandalism near the White House. Then, troops were authorized to carry weapons as they stood Guard at various monuments, the White House and parts of downtown Washington.
Now, as then, troops are authorized to use their weapons in self-defense, but they are still acting in support of law enforcement, who will have the authority to control crowds and make arrests.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.