Some Guardsmen who were mobilized weeks ago had transitioned back to supporting efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic but will now return to the civil disturbance mission, Clapper said.
The troops may carry face shields for personal protection but did not have tear gas or pepper spray as of Wednesday afternoon, Clapper said. U.S. Marshals were similarly told Wednesday they should prepare to help protect national monuments across the country, according to an email directive viewed by The Washington Post.
Demonstrators in Washington and other cities have targeted statues and monuments in recent weeks following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police last month, prompting a reckoning of the role that race and racism has a played in U.S. history.
Many of the markers were dedicated to Confederate leaders. But on Monday, protesters decrying President Andrew Jackson’s brutal displacement of Native Americans attached ropes to a bronze statue of him in Lafayette Square to try to tear it down. Law enforcement stopped their efforts.
President Trump said Tuesday that protesters would be met with “serious force” if they tried to establish an autonomous zone at Lafayette Square and that federal officials would seek long sentences for anyone who toppled statues or vandalized monuments.
One emerging flash point is the Emancipation Statue in Lincoln Park, a federally controlled space in Northeast Washington. The statue depicts a freed slave kneeling at the feet of President Abraham Lincoln.
Protesters who have vowed to tear it down have said it champions white supremacy and fails to acknowledge the crucial role slaves played in fighting for their freedom.
A Park Police spokesman declined to say where the agency needed support, saying the demonstrators posed a threat and that revealing potential areas would endanger officers.
“We’re dealing with extremists,” Sgt. Eduardo Delgado said.
At one point, more than 1,200 D.C. Guardsmen were mobilized in response to civil unrest in the capital. Several states contributed forces for a high-water mark of more than 5,000 the weekend of June 6, defense officials said.
The National Guard has struggled to reconcile its image — one of responding to natural disasters and deploying to war — with its recent mobilizations in which many stood shoulder to shoulder with police. National Guard Chief Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel has called the civil unrest mobilizations an “uncomfortable” mission requiring Guardsmen to confront their own community.
Two helicopters from the D.C. Guard flew low over protesters on June 1 in what lawmakers and human rights groups called a “show of force” meant to frighten and disperse them with roaring engines and powerful rotor wash.
One of the helicopters, a UH-72 Lakota, hovered an estimated 45 feet over the heads of protesters, according to a Washington Post analysis using 3-D modeling, videos and photos.
The Lakota, a medical evacuation helicopter, was adorned with red crosses. Military law experts and human rights groups criticized its use, saying the red cross is a symbol of global mercy and inconsistent with what has been widely described as maneuvers to intimidate. The incident is under investigation by the D.C. Guard.
Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.