Requests for additional Army National Guard support during the Jan. 6 riots in the U.S. Capitol building were initially denied by officials in the Pentagon. As protests became increasingly violent on Capitol Hill, Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund called the Pentagon where a representative from the office of the Secretary of the Army said that additional National Guard support “wasn’t going to be possible.”

Days before the storming of the Capitol building, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser made an official request for Army National Guard support in anticipation of protests in the District. Likely influenced by incidents of police brutality during summer Black Lives Matter protests, Bowser specifically asked that soldiers not be armed and only assist with traffic. If there was escalation, D.C. Guard members were given authority to control crowds, but only as a last resort.

The Guard members deployed, however, were vastly outnumbered.

Bowser was quick to denounce the Army National Guard’s slow response telling the Washington Post that police and authorities on the ground “made it perfectly clear that they needed extraordinary help, including the National Guard. There was some concern from the Army of what it would look like to have armed military personnel on the grounds of the Capitol.”

The fear of “bad optics” from soldiers in combat gear clearing the Capitol was reinforced by U.S. defense officials. In an attempt to avoid a full deployment of the D.C. National Guard reserves, which was requested by Bowser once the Capitol building was breached, Pentagon officials waited more than three hours to shift National Guard members deployed from traffic assistance to riot response.

Because D.C. is not a state, the army secretary and the president have direct control over National Guard deployment. In the aftermath of the riots which left six people dead, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy spoke on behalf of the president. McCarthy said that they could not have anticipated the violent clashes that flooded into the Capitol building Wednesday. 

McCarthy’s statement is contested by many who saw public statements from violent far-right groups like the Proud Boys who came to D.C. from across the country in anticipation of the protests as indication of high potential for rioting. Tweets from former President Donald Trump also urged supporters to protest in D.C. as early as mid-December with very high engagement from his supporters.

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