The Pentagon has confirmed that hundreds of active-duty soldiers have been flown into the Washington area from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Fort Drum, New York, and placed on “heightened alert status” for possible use controlling unruly protesters following an eighth night of demonstrations in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
“The Department of Defense moved multiple active-duty Army units into the National Capital Region as a prudent planning measure in response to ongoing support to civil authorities operations,” said Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman in a statement issued last night.
Hoffman said the 1,600 active-duty troops are “postured” on military bases in the Washington area, not in the city itself, and so far have not taken part in any support to “civil authority operations.”
THE ACTIVE-DUTY UNITS: The federal troops include two military police units and a rapid response force. They are:
Task Force 504, an infantry battalion assigned to the Army’s Immediate Response Force based at Fort Bragg
16th Military Police Brigade from Fort Bragg
91st Military Police Battalion from Fort Drum
MILITARIZATION OF DOMESTIC LAW ENFORCEMENT: The use of the National Guard, and in particular the prospect of employing active-duty troops to confront and control throngs of angry protesters, continues to draw criticism from Democrats in Congress.
“I have serious concerns about using military forces to respond to protestors,” said Rep. Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who called the possibility of President Trump invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807 “a deeply dangerous step.”
“The role of the U.S. military in domestic U.S. law enforcement is limited by law. It must not be used in violation of those limits, and I see little evidence that President Trump understands this fundamental premise,” Smith said in a statement.
Smith is calling on both Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley to appear before his committee to answer questions. “The fate of our democracy depends on how we navigate this time of crisis,” he said.
On the Senate side, Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed, ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, expressed similar concerns. “President Trump’s repeated threats to ‘dominate,’ and unleash the ‘unlimited power of our military’ against American citizens are irresponsible and destabilizing,” and “run counter to our democratic values,” Reed said in a statement. “The job of bringing calm will take law enforcement and the community working together. It will not come from recklessly invoking the Insurrection Act.”
‘THE GREATEST FORCE FOR GOOD’: In a memo addressed to all DOD personnel issued Tuesday, Esper addressed the concerns directly and defended the use of the military as “just the most recent example of our longstanding support to civilian authorities.”
“The United States military has been the greatest force for good in our Nation's history,” the June 2 memo begins. “While we often see the impact of our efforts overseas, every President has at times deployed military forces for domestic missions as well.”
“In the last few months, for example, America's men and women in uniform — Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard — have worked day and night across our communities to confront the COVID-19 crisis,” Esper said. “This historic mission was just the most recent example of our longstanding support to civilian authorities — from pandemics to hurricanes, and from wildfires to providing security after 9/11.”
UPHOLDING THE CONSTITUTION: “Department of Defense personnel have taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. I myself have taken it many times in my military and civilian careers, and believe strongly in it,” Esper wrote.
“As part of that oath, we commit to protecting the American people's right to freedom of speech and to peaceful assembly. I, like you, am steadfast in my belief that Americans who are frustrated, angry, and seeking to be heard must be ensured that opportunity. And like you, I am committed to upholding the rule of law and protecting life and liberty, so that the violent actions of a few do not undermine the rights and freedoms of law-abiding citizens.”
THE NUMBERS: As of Tuesday, governors in 28 states and the District of Columbia had activated more than 20,400 National Guard members to assist state and local law enforcement in support of civil unrest operations.
“The hardest mission we do is responding in times of civil unrest,” said Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau. “We are here to protect life and property and preserve peace, order, and public safety.”
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HAPPENING TODAY: The Pentagon plans to announce this afternoon which seven military installations have been selected to host 5G communications technology testing and experimentation. Joseph Evans, the Pentagon’s technical director for 5G, will brief reporters by phone at 3:45 p.m. The briefing will also be streamed live on Defense.gov.
DOD COVID-19 CASES TOP 10,000: The latest update from the Pentagon shows that as of Tuesday, the number of people across the Department of Defense who have at one time or another tested positive for COVID-19 has now exceeded 10,000, at a time when nationally, the death toll alone is more than 104,000.
Of 10,133 recorded cases among military, DOD civilians, contractors, and their dependents, more than half — 5,613 — have recovered, and 455 required hospitalization. The death toll remains at 36, far below the mortality rate of the general public.
'EVERY AMERICAN SHOULD BE OUTRAGED’: In a memo to his commanders, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein called the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police “a national tragedy.”
The memo, obtained by Air Force Times, came a day after his top enlisted advisor, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth Wright, posted a lengthy Twitter thread that began, “Who am I? I am a Black man who happens to be the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. I am George Floyd.”
“Every American should be outraged that the conduct exhibited by police in Minneapolis can still happen in 2020,” Goldfein said in his memo.
IN DEFENSE OF ‘BATTLESPACE’: The Pentagon is defending Secretary Esper’s comments during a Monday White House call with state governors referring to the “need to dominate the battlespace” when confronting violent protesters as the use of “a parlance unique to the professional arms.”
Some, including former Joint Chiefs Chairman retired Gen. Martin Dempsey, objected to the language, which seemed to cast the public as enemy combatants.
“You have a secretary of defense who was in uniform for more than 20 years,” said an official on a background call for reporters Tuesday. “And so he was using the terms that we have.”
“The use of the term ‘battlespace’ is a common term for the area in which we are operating,” the official said. “Whether that's in air, whether it's space, whether it's sea, that's how we describe the area of our operation.”
“Nothing should be read [into] the use of that term to denote anything other than it's the common term we use for the area we are operating in.”
HOODWINKED? The official also told reporters that when Esper and Milley walked out of the White House Monday night, they had no idea they were about to take part in a photo op at the St. John’s Episcopal Church across Lafayette Square or that the park had been ordered to be cleared of protesters, reportedly by Attorney General William Barr.
The official said that after meeting with the FBI, Esper and Milley returned to the White House to brief Trump at the request of the president, who, after his Rose Garden remarks, said he wanted to go outside the White House to talk to National Guard troops.
“At the conclusion of that, the president indicated his desire to head out and see the troops,” the official said. “They were not aware that the Park Police and law enforcement had made a decision to clear the square, and once they began that walk off of the White House grounds with the president, they continued with them.”
D.C. GUARD TROOP UNARMED: In that same conference call, Pentagon officials said that the D.C. National Guard troops who helped clear protesters from the square had shields and batons but were otherwise unarmed. “They did not have any lethal munitions. They did not have tear gas. They did not have rubber bullets. They did not at any point fire on any protesters,” one official said.
“Some of the folks on the front lines do have some pepper spray on them, but they don't have any tear gas or any other nonlethal weapons,” a second official said.
MISUSE OF HELICOPTERS? The D.C. National Guard announced Tuesday night it’s conducting a full investigation into the use of low-flying helicopters to intimidate protesters in Washington Monday night.
At one point, video captured a medical evacuation helicopter with Red Cross markings on its sides hovering low over a crowd of people who were being blown around by the prop wash.
"I hold all members of the District of Columbia National Guard to the highest of standards. We live and work in the District, and we are dedicated to the service of our nation," said Commanding General Maj. Gen. William Walker. "I have directed an immediate investigation into the June 1 incident.”