Feds Screen National Guardsmen for Insider Threats to Inauguration

The FBI and the Army are screening all National Guard troops supporting the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration for signs of an insider threat to the proceedings, according to the National Guard Bureau.

“If there’s any indication that any of our Soldiers or Airmen are expressing things that are extremist views, it’s either handed over to law enforcement or dealt with the chain of command immediately,” NGB Chief Army Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson said in a Jan. 18 release.

Federal and city officials are preparing for potential violence that could disrupt President-elect Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony, following the Jan. 6 riot that killed five as lawmakers moved to certify the 2020 presidential election results.

The District of Columbia National Guard is training visiting troops to report anything inappropriate that “they see or hear … to their chain of command,” an Army spokesperson said in the release. All Soldiers already go through an annual Threat Awareness and Reporting Program as well.

“There is no place for extremism in the military and we will investigate each report individually and take appropriate action,” the spokesperson said in the release. “Any type of activity that involves violence, civil disobedience, or a breach of peace may be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice or under state or federal law.”

Background checks for Guardsmen is part of a broader push in the Defense Department to curb white supremacy and other ideological extremism within the U.S. military. A senior defense official said during a Jan. 14 press briefing that the number of investigations into current and former service members with possible ties to extremist groups has grown, but did not say how many are underway.

Ahead of Inauguration Day, judge advocates from the D.C. National Guard and paralegals are ensuring Guardsmen are properly briefed on their mission and the guidelines for deploying in the nation’s capital.

According to Maj. Don Cravins Jr., a command judge advocate with the D.C. Guard, those briefings cover “rules of conduct, the use of force and de-escalation techniques,” D.C. law, and DOD regulations.

“We also go through real-life training scenarios and explain the rights and protections allotted to them as Soldiers and Airmen under Title 32 of the United States Code,” Cravins said in the release. 

More than 21,500 Guard troops had arrived in D.C. as of the morning of Jan. 18, NGB wrote. At least 25,000 personnel are approved to offer “security, communication, and logistical” support to city and federal authorities until Jan. 20, though their services may be needed longer.

Between Jan. 12-15, 125 Air National Guard aircraft flew more than 130 sorties into Washington, hauling more than 7,000 troops and 2.3 million pounds of cargo from around the nation.

National Guardsmen—many of whom will be armed—plan to support federal and local law enforcement by protecting lawmakers and congressional staffers; securing Capitol grounds and property, as well as providing security elsewhere in the Washington area as needed; directing traffic; managing crowds; coordinating parking; and offering medical and logistical backup.

“Some Guardsmen who are supporting Operation Capitol Response will be sworn in as special police by civilian law enforcement agencies such as the U.S. Capitol Police, U.S. Park Police, and the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department,” the bureau said.

Footage published by the Nebraska National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters shows troops from the state being sworn in while standing in the middle of a D.C. street.
Video: Staff Sgt. Herschel Talley/Joint Force Headquarters-Nebraska National Guard

The move to deputize Guard troops, first reported by Reuters on Jan. 14, is not unprecedented. Personnel from at least one Army National Guard unit were sworn in as members of the Metropolitan Police Department ahead of President Donald J. Trump’s inauguration in 2017.

Brian W. Everstine contributed to this story.