Ayyyeee… What’s Goodie Everyone. So I got some tea and it involves the defense secretary instructions on firearms.
The Pentagon has told National Guardsmen deployed to the nation’s capital not to use firearms or ammunition, and has issued orders to send home active duty troops that the Trump administration amassed outside the city in recent days, a sign of de escalation in the federal response to protests in the city.
Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper made the decision to disarm the guard without consulting the White House, after President Trump ordered a militarized show of force on the streets of Washington to quell demonstrations that were punctured by an episode of looting Sunday, two senior administration officials said. Trump had encouraged the National Guard to be armed.
At a news conference Friday, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said that some guardsmen in the District had been carrying arms on Monday, but he noted that they did not have magazines of ammunition in their firearms. Beginning Tuesday, the Trump administration de-escalated further, he said, by removing firearms from the equation altogether.
“It was clear that there were enough federal law enforcement that had descended on the city, and that would be their principal responsibility,” McCarthy said.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) had requested that the federal government deploy the D.C. Guard, initially to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, but has since criticized the Trump administration’s response in the city, which critics have described as an overreaction designed to boost the president politically with Americans outside the nation’s capital watching on television.
Trump’s insistence on a militarized response in the nation’s capital has led to strains with Esper, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a former Army officer who took over as defense secretary last year. Esper announced publicly Wednesday that he wasn’t in favor of using the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty troops, even as the president threatened to invoke it.
Esper also said he was sending home some of the 1,600 active duty troops amassed outside Washington but later stood down on that decision after a heated meeting with Trump.
On Thursday, the administration said some of those troops would indeed be leaving, and by Friday, McCarthy announced at the Pentagon that all active-duty forces would return to their bases. The last group to leave will be the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, the “Old Guard” that is permanently based just outside Washington at Fort Myer in Virginia, he said. As of Friday, all had been ordered to return but not all had departed.
Trump has battled with Esper about the military this week, with the president viewing the strong uniformed force in Washington as a deterrent to unrest. The Pentagon, meanwhile, has worried about the militarization of a response that defense officials believe must be led by law enforcement.
It wasn’t clear whether the Pentagon was responding to pressure from the D.C. municipal government in its decision to disarm the guardsmen and send active-duty troops home. Bowser has been calling publicly for the guardsmen to be disarmed but has also pushed for disarming them in private conversations with federal officials, said an official familiar with the matter.
In a letter sent to Trump on Thursday, Bowser informed the president that she had ended the city’s state of emergency and requested that he withdraw all extraordinary federal agents and military assets from the nation’s capital, explaining that the city was equipped to handle “large demonstrations and First Amendment activities.” She expressed particular concern about the federal agents who were not from the Defense Department and had been brought into the city.
“I continue to be concerned that unidentified federal personnel patrolling the streets of Washington, D.C. pose both safety and national security risks,” the mayor wrote. “The deployment of federal law enforcement personnel and equipment are inflaming demonstrators and adding to the grievances of those who, by and large, are peacefully protesting for change and for reforms to the racist and broken systems that are killing Black Americans.”