WASHINGTON — The Pentagon came “right up to the edge” of bringing active troops into the District of Columbia to counter large numbers of demonstrators but stopped the process by leaving the troops in bases outside the district line, the Army secretary said Sunday.
If those actives forces became part of the multi-agency counterforce that was operating in DC, that means they were likely to fall under the command of the Justice Department — and not the Pentagon.
That is because “DOJ was the lead agency. DOD supported DOJ,” a Pentagon spokesperson told Talk Media News Sunday. DOJ is the Department of Justice and DOD is the Department of Defense.
“We didn’t want to do it,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told Pentagon reporters Sunday, referring to having the president declare the Insurrection Act. “The DoD didn’t want to do it. We knew once you went to that escalation it would be very difficult.”
McCarthy said the Pentagon was uncertain if it could rush in “enough National Guard quickly enough” to support DC police, US park police, Service Service, and existing DC National Guard units as the numbers of demonstrators escalated — one reason active troops were readied.
He denied that National Guardsmen were deployed for political purposes. “On Sunday evening (May 31) the security elements were almost overwhelmed,” he said.
Maj. Gen. William Walker, commander of D.C. National Guard, told reporters, “We were the last line of defense. On a couple of occasions, they penetrated the line and our people kept (demonstrators) from advancing on the White House lawn proper.”
McCarthy said out of state Guard forces from Maryland and New Jersey returned to their home states Sunday. Next schedule to leave are units from Mississippi, Florida, Utah, and Indiana, followed the next day by units from Missouri, South Carolina, Ohio, Idaho, and Tennessee.
“How close were we? You had the 82nd Airborne at Ft. Belvoir. That is how close we were,” McCarthy said.
Ft. Belvoir is south of Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home in Virginia, and about 21 miles south of Washington, D.C.
All active forces have returned to their home bases and “The Old Guard” – 800 active-duty troops – were “turned off” meaning no longer on alert for use in DC, McCarthy said. The Old Guard is quartered across the Potomac River in Virginia.
McCarthy said he and Walker gave the general orders to launch helicopters over the protests on Monday. Determining who gave the order for the specific actions of the helicopter lowering into the crowd is part of a current investigation, he said.
“It’s been a really tough week,” he said.