The Road to Jan 6 Final

Underestimating the Threat, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser Ordered Up Unarmed Guards

In this daily series, Newsweek explores the steps that led to the January 6 Capitol Riot.

On Thursday, December 31, says the current accepted narrative, the District of Columbia mayor rang an alarm about protests at the Joint Session of Congress. In fact, the opposite is true. What the mayor did, was ask for the minimal number of National Guardsmen and women to help out the Metropolitan Police Department, and she warned that those troops should be unarmed and not directly involve themselves in any protests.

Mayor Muriel Bowser sent a letter on New Year's Eve to Maj. Gen. William Walker, commanding general of the District of Columbia National Guard, requesting support on January 5 through 6. She said Guard personnel would support the MPD and the District Fire and Emergency Medical Services. "[N]o DCNG personnel shall be armed during this mission, and at no time, will DCNG personnel or assets be engaged in domestic surveillance, searches, or seizures of [U.S.] persons," she wrote.

A follow-up letter from Christopher Rodriguez, director of the District's Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said that the DCNG's primary mission would be "crowd management and assistance with blocking vehicles at traffic posts [traffic control points or TCPs]." He specifically requested six National Guard crowd management teams at 30 TCPs and six specific Metro stations to prevent overcrowded platforms.

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Underestimating the threat, Mayor Muriel Bowser requested a minimal number of National Guard, stipulating that they not be armed. Here, members of the National Guard and the Washington D.C. police try to control demonstrators after thousands of Donald Trump supporters stormed the United States Capitol building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The reason for the limited request went back to June 1, 2020, when George Floyd protests reached their peak in the District, along with significant controversy about the role of the military. Former Attorney General Bill Barr characterized May 31 as "the most violent day of civil unrest in the District in 30 years."

Then Donald Trump took his famous walk through Lafayette Square to St. John's Episcopal Church, accompanied by then Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Milley was wearing a combat uniform. Esper and Milley would both later apologize for their presence, and their appearance of involving the military in partisan politics. But beyond the two defense leaders, there was also the question of the DC National Guard and the presence of active duty military troops.

Guard troops were present at Lafayette Square and a Guard UH-72 helicopter hovered over protestors. Social media went bananas. "The optics of the past 72 hours are putting people inside the halls of the Pentagon on edge as images of U.S. troops on the streets of the nation's capital dominate airwaves across the globe," Politico wrote. The Pentagon would later pile on the public apologies and explanations but the damage was done.

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DC Mayor Muriel Bowser sent a New Year's Eve request for help. Here, the mayor, District officials, and federal partners hold a public safety briefing on preparations for the upcoming 59th Presidential Inauguration, on January 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. Bill O'Leary - Pool/Getty Images

Maj. Gen. Walker forwarded the request from the District of Columbia government to Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy on January 1 with his recommendation that McCarthy approve the supporting request. Because of a peculiarity of the District not being a state, the DC National Guard is under the direct command of the president, with the Secretary of the Army exercising direct control. Once inside the Pentagon, Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller also learned of the request the same day. Walker talked on the phone with McCarthy, explaining that Guard members helping the MPD with traffic and crowd control would free up more police officers to respond to any civil unrest. McCarthy told Walker to conduct a mission analysis, saying that he would confer with acting secretary Miller.

On December 31, the DC National Guard received its first law enforcement projections of the size of the crowd expected on January 6. The MPD estimated the crowd's size would be 19,925. The U.S. Park Police stated, according to the IG report, that "there was not a single organizer to control all the groups, so most action would be spontaneous. This was seen by some as a 'last chance' so there was the possibility of more aggression than in previous protests." There was an expectation that supporters of the Proud Boys and anti-fascist (Antifa) organizations would fight each other, resulting in possible larceny, looting and arson.

Still, the Army staff concluded that there was no emergency regarding possible protests because, as the IG report states, "local law enforcement had not recalled or placed their officers on standby."

In a formal PowerPoint presentation prepared on December 31, Maj. Gen. Walker estimated that the mission required 350 DC National Guard personnel.

The Pentagon later told the Inspector General that "there were no contingency plans for conducting CDOs [civil disturbance operations] in D.C. because the DoD acts only in response to specific requests from civil authorities unless the President invokes the Insurrection Act." That statement was false, as Newsweek previously reported.

The DC National Guard started preparing for the "Operation Guardian" mission on January 1, conducting drills and table top war games, collecting the equipment and notifying Guardsmen and women of their activation for the anticipated mission. There were no credible threats of violence or civil unrest, the Operations Order stated.

On January 2, McCarthy met with Acting Secretary Miller and Gen. Milley to discuss the request. In that meeting, the leaders (including many other participants) discussed crowd estimates and rules of engagement. McCarthy argued that he wanted to ensure that the MPD was in the lead and that they exhausted all of their assets before turning to the military. If the Pentagon were to send further assistance, McCarthy wanted there to be proper command and control and appropriate authorities to provide further support. He said, and Miller and Milley evidently agreed, that they didn't want troops in full military combat gear or Army tactical vehicles close to the Capitol or have any deployment that looked like an overly militarized response.

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Commanding General District of Columbia National Guard Major General William J. Walker testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs/Rules and Administration hearing to examine the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol on Capitol Hill; March 3, 2021 in Washington, DC. Shawn Thew/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

In emails sent after the January 2 meeting, McCarthy reiterated that he was not inclined to provide support unless the District of Columbia government had exhausted all resources. Gen. Milley stressed the need for a lead Federal agency (normally the Secret Service) to make the requests and decisions—that the Department of Defense should be the last resort.

The assistant secretary of defense for "homeland defense" wrote to the federal law enforcement agencies to see if they had any concerns that the Pentagon should be tracking. According to the IG report, "The [deleted, FBI Washington Field Office] responded that they had no specific concerns. The DHS [Department of Homeland Security] representative stated that they were not increasing their posture and were not tracking any threats to Federal facilities. The USMS [U.S. Marshal Service] representative stated that they were not responding to protests on January 5 and 6, 2021, and did not require DoD support."