Walz downplayed the significance of the Pentagon’s offer to send U.S. armed forces, saying that “this has happened before” where soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division and other parts of the Army are put “on readiness.”
“They’re not talking about mobilizing the entire United States Army,” Walz said. “We’re probably talking about in the neighborhood of several hundred” soldiers.
The Pentagon’s chief spokesman, Jonathan Rath Hoffman, said in a statement on Saturday that Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, had talked to Walz twice in the last day and “expressed the department’s readiness to provide support to local and state authorities as requested.”
While there is no request from Walz for active-duty forces at this time, the Pentagon 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,” Hoffman said. The units normally maintain a 48-hour recall time to support states through events such as natural disasters, and now are on a four-hour status, Hoffman said.
In Washington, President Trump said that officials in Minnesota need to be tougher, citing police who withdrew from a police station before it was burned on Thursday night. He drew a distinction between the use of active-duty forces and the National Guard.
“We have our military ready, willing and able, if they ever want to call our military,” Trump said. “And we can have troops on the ground very quickly if they ever want our military.”
Trump also tweeted, “Crossing State lines to incite violence is a FEDERAL CRIME! Liberal Governors and Mayors must get MUCH tougher or the Federal Government will step in and do what has to be done, and that includes using the unlimited power of our Military and many arrests.”
But Walz appeared set to carry out a plan that includes a significantly beefed up National Guard presence instead. He said the mobilization of the entire Minnesota National Guard, which has about 13,200 members, has never happened in the state’s history. The doesn’t mean that all members will be involved, but he said the effort will be significantly larger than the 700 guardsmen who were on duty on Friday night.
“By this afternoon, our hope is to exponentially have that force out there,” Walz said, adding that he also anticipates getting “significant support” from the National Guard forces of neighboring states.
The news of the active-duty alerts was first reported by the Associated Press, which said soldiers from Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Drum, N.Y., were among those on alert. The units include military police forces, but other forces are involved, a senior defense official said on Saturday, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Senior Pentagon officials are discussing ways that the military might be able to assist in Minnesota that do not require the Insurrection Act, the official said. The law allows Trump to use federal troops to put down lawlessness.
The senior official cited crowd control as one example where the active-duty military might have a role under that limited model, and arrests as one example where they would not.
Protesters clash with police in Minneapolis after death of George Floyd
“No one in the department is talking about invoking the Insurrection Act,” the official said. He added that the Defense Department is “going in support of the governor, and that’s our touchstone: What does the governor need to be successful.”
Walz also said that Esper and Milley were “able to provide their intelligence support of what they’re seeing, what they’re signal intercepting.” He did not elaborate, and defense officials did not immediately have clarification on what that could entail.
Walz said that over the last 48 hours, peaceful protest in Minnesota has “morphed into something very different.” He said that he expects that authorities will soon release information about who some of the people arrested are. Many of them, he said, are not from Minnesota.
John Harrington, the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said that they have seen some white supremacists say that they are coming to Minnesota, and others who have advocated for looting.
“We are in the process right now of building that information network, and building that intel network,” he said.
Foreign intelligence services, especially the Russians, often use domestic unrest in the United States to their advantage by exaggerating that unrest through social media and influence operations, said Mick Mulroy, a former Pentagon official and retired CIA officer who is now an ABC News analyst.
The operations often take advantage of legitimate protests, hijacking them by advocating destructive acts such as the burning and destruction of property that reduce the American people’s confidence in their own government, Mulroy said. If there is evidence that any other countries are doing this, he said, there needs to be direct and real consequences for them.
Missy Ryan contributed to this report.