Capitol National Guard Operation Could Last Beyond May Due to 'Domestic Threat': Pentagon

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has approved a request from the U.S. Capitol Police to extend the deployment of thousands of National Guard troops in Washington, D.C., in an effort to help law enforcement guard against the threat posed by domestic extremist groups.

The troops were first deployed after the storming of the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Donald Trump supporters on January 6.

Almost 2,300 national guards will now remain deployed to the capital until at least May 23, around half of the 5,100 currently operating around the Capitol building. Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby refused to say whether the deployment could be extended further.

Asked whether the deployment would become an "enduring mission" by one reporter, Kirby responded: "I don't think anybody can answer that question right now. Right now, we're really dealing with a specific request for assistance for an additional couple of months extension at a reduced number from what we're seeing now."

"That's where our focus right now is," Kirby said. "So I'm in no position to speculate beyond that."

Asked whether this meant the deployment could be indefinite, Kirby responded: "I think you might be over-hearing me. I'm saying what we're focused on is this focus request—that's where the focus is right now, and I just wouldn't hypothesize about this going forward."

Troops are deployed to the Capitol to support USCP officers, who were overwhelmed by pro-Trump rioters on January 6. The USCP is currently reviewing the events of that day, and has already dismissed six officers and suspended 29 others, pending further investigation.

"Part of the calculus here is in helping fill some of the gaps in Capitol Police capabilities on Capitol Hill and at the Capitol complex," Kirby told reporters Tuesday.

"So part of this is obviously valid requirements to have in there, but also to help backfill some of these capabilities, as they look at themselves as an institution and what they need to do for their long-term future."

The National Guard is deployed to the capital to protect against a repeat of January 6, as far-right extremists and conspiracy theorists continue to organize and spread disinformation online.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, has put a new focus on right-wing extremism, long a toxic strain within American conservatism but one that has grown more influential and dangerous in recent years, encouraged—critics say—by Trump and his allies in the GOP.

The Pentagon is itself in the midst of a 60-day stand-down order to review extremism in its ranks. The National Guard is also under added scrutiny, and 12 members were removed from their inauguration duties over extremist concerns.

Austin and Kirby have both admitted they do not yet know how serious the problem of extremism in the military is. Kirby repeated Tuesday that the focus of the probe is on far-right extremists and gangs.

Kirby explained that the National Guard operation was required given concerns about more extremist violence. "It's obviously different here at home than it would be for forces overseas, of course," he said.

"It's a domestic threat that we're talking about, which means that the information and the intelligence comes from domestic law enforcement agencies."

"It's important to remember is that the Guard presence on the Hill, while certainly there to address a requirement that is based on law enforcement's concerns, is also there to help bolster and support the Capitol Police and their capabilities, which may not be at the level where it needs to be, given the fact that we're in sort of a new environment in this country."

The Department of Defense confirmed the decision on Tuesday. In a statement, the Pentagon said officials "will work with the U.S. Capitol Police to incrementally reduce the National Guard footprint as conditions allow."

National guard pictured by Capitol Hill DC
National Guard soldiers patrol the Capitol grounds on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., on March 6, 2021. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images