Pentagon tied D.C. National Guard general's hands before Capitol siege

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Peter Weber
·2 min read
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Lots of things went wrong with law enforcement before and during the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol by a mob of supporters of former President Donald Trump, and one of them was the long delay in deployment of National Guard reinforcements. Those failures were the focus of a closed-door hearing Tuesday before the House Appropriations Committee, and among those who testified was Maj. Gen. William Walker, commander of the D.C. National Guard. Walker told The Washington Post on Tuesday that the Pentagon had tied his hands.

Because Washington, D.C., isn't a state, the president is nominally in charge of the D.C. National Guard. In practice, the defense secretary and Army secretary are in command, but Walker, like all National Guard commanders, typically has the power to take military action in an emergency. "All military commanders normally have immediate response authority to protect property, life, and in my case, federal functions — federal property and life," Walker told the Post. "But in this instance I did not have that authority."

In a Jan. 5 memo, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, who was Walker's direct superior until he stepped down last week, prohibited Walker from deploying a ready force of 40 Guardsmen without a formal "concept of operations" plan, the Post reports. In a Jan. 4 memo, acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller had prohibited McCarthy from authorizing the deployment of D.C. Guardsmen carrying helmets, body armor, riot control agents, or weapons without his approval, and said the quick reaction force could be dispatched "only as a last resort."

Pentagon officials say the requirement for top-level authorization was a response to the D.C. Guard's participation in Trump's widely criticized crackdown on racial justice protests in June. "When you go back to times when we've done this, like June, we wanted to make sure we were very careful about the employment — careful about fragmentary orders," McCarthy told the Post.

There was also concern at the Pentagon about sending soldiers nominally under Trump's command into a riot of Trump supporters, because that might give the impression Guardsmen were aiding a pro-Trump coup, the Post reports. Those concerns, valid as they may be, don't explain why it took three hours for the Pentagon to deploy the National Guard after the rioters had already overrun the Capitol. Read more at The Washington Post.

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