National Guard Soldiers and Airmen were activated in 15 states and the District of Columbia on Sunday in response to civil disturbances to assist law enforcement with protecting lives and property, according to the National Guard website.
The troops have been deployed to Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington state, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.
There are varying rules on how Guard troops are armed in each state according to assessed threat level and their own playbook.
In D.C. for instance, troops have been activated and are not armed, Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Craig Clapper, a D.C. National Guard spokesman, told Military Times. They do have protective equipment like shields and batons, he said.
“They don’t do law enforcement,” said Clapper. “They are not to engage. They are in a support role.”
Clapper said the DCNG troops are “there to keep the crowd back. If someone tries to break the line, they will push them back.”
According to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, the D.C. National Guard Unit is the only one that reports directly to the President of the United States. All others report to the State Governors.
Minnesota has experienced the most unrest as the location of the original crime that sparked the national violence.
Gov. Tim Walz said he spoke twice with Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sharing notes and asking DoD for additional help, including signals intelligence, to help figure out how the protesters are organizing.
However, a DoD official, speaking on background, said “there was no offer nor ask for DoD to provide Signal Intelligence and DoD is not providing any to the state.”
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said Saturday that “at this time there is no request by the governor of Minnesota for Title 10 forces to support the Minnesota National Guard or state law enforcement.”
However, as “a prudent planning measure, the department has directed U.S. Northern Command to increase the alert status of several units should they be requested by the governor to support Minnesota authorities. These are units that normally maintain a 48-hour recall to support state civil authorities.
In Minnesota, National Guard troops are armed, but carry their ammunition in pouches, said Army Maj. Gen. Jon Jensen, the state’s adjutant general.
The troops are armed, said Jensen, because the FBI contacted Minnesota Guard officials saying they had received “a credible, lethal threat directed against the Minnesota National Guard.” Jensen declined to elaborate.
Jensen said Minnesota Guard troops are authorized to use proportional force in response to threats.
Minnesota Guardsman are not armed with rubber bullets or tasers, Jensen said.
The Colorado National Guard troops are unarmed but will be carrying defensive weapons such as batons, pepper spray and tasers. That was a decision made Saturday in conjunction with the Colorado governor, mayor and police chief of Denver according to Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael A. Loh, the Colorado National Guard’s adjutant general.
Georgia’s National Guard, typically carries pistols, particularly in urban environments, said Army Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden Jr., the adjutant general of the Georgia National Guard.
Rifles aren’t necessary due to the close quarter nature of the assignment.
All three National Guard leaders said their troops have not yet had to use force or defensive weapons.
The Generals said their troops are largely guarding critical infrastructure like hospitals and government buildings, allowing local law enforcement to provide front-line services.
Jensen said his biggest need is for military police, but that can be provided by neighboring states under a nationwide Guard compact. He would not name the two states that have agreed to provide those troops.
Governor Tim Walz of Minnesota has discussed out of state agitators causing trouble, however, Jensen did not specifically mention the threat of white nationalists, foreign elements or antifa, which Trump defined as terrorist organizations on Sunday.
The Guard leaders all described how activation for civil unrest is an important duty they reluctantly perform, but how it is unfortunately a sign of the current times and will do so honorably.
With the addition of the 5,000 troops, the total number of Guard members on duty in support of their governors has increased to nearly 62,000, in a total of 26 states, which represents activations for civil unrest, COVID-19 response, as well as state-specific disasters such as wildfires, flooding and other natural disasters.
The National Guard has been mobilized by the U.S. President 12 times since the enactment of the 1952 Armed Forces Reserve Act when the Guard was called into duty and operated under the control of the president. Many of these incidents happened during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
The last time this happened was during the verdict of the police officers found not guilty in the beating of Rodney King in 1992, according to the Chicago Tribune.
This activation follows U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s most recent extension of the National Guard’s activation term beyond the 90 day requirement needed for eligibility for full time benefits that made the news a month ago.