by Glenn Greenwald
Washington, DC has been continuously militarized beginning the week leading up to Joe Biden’s inauguration, when 20,000 National Guard troops were deployed onto the streets of the nation’s capital. The original justification was that this show of massive force was necessary to secure the inauguration in light of the January 6 riot at the Capitol.
But with the inauguration over and done, those troops remain and are not going anywhere any time soon. Working with federal law enforcement agencies, the National Guard Bureau announced on Monday that between 5,000 and 7,000 troops will remain in Washington until at least mid-March.
The rationale for this extraordinary, sustained domestic military presence has shifted several times, typically from anonymous U.S. law enforcement officials. The original justification — the need to secure the inaugural festivities — is obviously no longer operative.
So the new claim became that the impeachment trial of former President Trump that will take place in the Senate in February necessitated military reinforcements. On Sunday, Politico quoted “four people familiar with the matter” to claim that “Trump’s upcoming Senate impeachment trial poses a security concern that federal law enforcement officials told lawmakers last week requires as many as 5,000 National Guard troops to remain in Washington through mid-March.”
The next day, AP, citing “a U.S. official,” said the ongoing troop deployment was needed due to “ominous chatter about killing legislators or attacking them outside of the U.S. Capitol.” But the anonymous official acknowledged that “the threats that law enforcement agents are tracking vary in specificity and credibility.” Even National Guard troops complained that they “have so far been given no official justifications, threat reports or any explanation for the extended mission — nor have they seen any violence thus far.”
It is hard to overstate what an extreme state of affairs it is to have a sustained military presence in American streets. Prior deployments have been rare, and usually were approved for a limited period and/or in order to quell a very specific, ongoing uprising — to ensure the peaceful segregation of public schools in the South, to respond to the unrest in Detroit and Chicago in the 1960s, or to quell the 1991 Los Angeles riots that erupted after the Rodney King trial.
Deploying National Guard or military troops for domestic law enforcement purposes is so dangerous that laws in place from the country’s founding strictly limit its use. It is meant only as a last resort, when concrete, specific threats are so overwhelming that they cannot be quelled by regular law enforcement absent military reinforcements. Deploying active military troops is an even graver step than putting National Guard soldiers on the streets, but they both present dangers. As Trump’s Defense Secretary said in response to calls from some over the summer to deploy troops in response to the Black Lives Matter and Antifa protests: “The option to use active duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire of situations.”
Are we even remotely at such an extreme state where ordinary law enforcement is insufficient? The January 6 riot at the Capitol…