What is the National Guard, and why are there thousands of them in D.C. right now?


Image via District of Columbia National Guard on twitter @DCGuard1802

Jan. 20, 2021– Thousands of National Guard troops are filling the nation’s capital, as well as many state capitals around the nation, because of threats by right-wing extremist groups still loyal to President Donald Trump in the wake of the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol siege and ahead of the planned 59th presidential inauguration. As of Wednesday morning, more than 25,000 members of the National Guard were on the ground in Washington to assist D.C. and federal authorities through President-elect Joe Biden’s and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ inauguration. With at least two and a half times more troops than previous inaugurals, how has D.C. and other law enforcement authorities prepared forces to ensure a constitutional, and peaceful,  transition of power?

What is the National Guard? 

The National Guard is a state-based branch of the U.S. military with each state government having its own National Guard, and ability to call on the Guard at a moment’s notice. However, in D.C., rather than the mayor, the president controls the National Guard. While the Constitution doesn’t refer to the National Guard by name, it does say that states have the power to call forth “the militia” to repel invasions, execute the laws, and suppress revolutions.  The Constitution gives Congress the power to fund the militia and gives it authority over the Guard members serving the federal government. After Jan. 6, Vice President Mike Pence was the one to call  upon the National Guard’s presence in D.C., rather than President Trump. 

What are they doing in D.C.?

The National Guard, along with the U.S. Secret Service, are expected to maintain peaceful control of the city by manning traffic control and security checkpoints, ensuring that spectators are able to move around smoothly and safely before, during, and after inaugural events. Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said during an inauguration security briefing with Vice President Mike Pence Thursday, “They [the National Guard] are under the command and control of Maj. Gen. William Walker, the Commanding General of the D.C. National Guard, and are providing security, communications, logistics and coordination with all supported agencies.” On Jan. 12, National Guardsmen were given authorization to be armed in support of the U.S. Capitol Police to protect the Capitol and individual members of Congress and their staff, according to a National Guard Bureau media release. This was requested by federal authorities and authorized by the secretary of the Army.

 In addition to the overwhelming presence of the National Guard troops, the city is essentially on lock down and prepared for any internal or external threats that might occur throughout the inaugural process. Tanks and concrete barriers block the streets. The National Mall is closed. Fencing lines the perimeter of the U.S. Capitol complex. Even in the hours leading up to the event, federal agents were monitoring “concerning online chatter”, which included an array of threats against elected officials and discussions about ways to infiltrate the inauguration. 

However, as more National Guard troops from around the country take up their posts in the nation’s capital,  law enforcement officials have grown increasingly concerned about the possibility that such extremist groups could stream into Washington and spark violent confrontations. On Sunday night,  the Associated Press reported that U.S. defense officials say they are worried about an insider attack or other threat from service members involved in securing President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, prompting the FBI to vet all of the 25,000 National Guard troops coming into Washington for the event. And while the military routinely reviews service members for extremist connections, the FBI screening is in addition to any previous monitoring.