“I have all the faith and trust and confidence in the District of Columbia, from the mayor down to the chief of police, and I believe that they trust me,” Walker said in an interview outside the D.C. Armory as personnel prepared for assignments and a line of Humvees sat across the street.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
U.S. officials have authorized a force of about 25,000 guardsmen to assist the Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies in advance of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday, as authorities respond to continued threats of violence in Washington and state capitals alike.
The robust military plan comes as tensions still simmer following the Trump administration’s aggressive show of force in Washington over the summer, when thousands of National Guard members were deployed at the behest of Trump amid racial justice protests, despite concerns from Bowser (D) that they were exacerbating tensions.
Mindful of that, D.C. officials and the Pentagon scaled back the Guard’s role ahead of the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” protest in support of Trump’s baseless claims that Biden’s victory was fraudulent.
While thousands of National Guard members are typically involved in an inauguration — about 8,000 were deployed during Trump’s ceremony four years ago — the arrangement this year has left downtown Washington with an unusually heavy military presence, with armored vehicles blocking some streets and guardsmen with rifles manning a fence line that stretches for miles around the Capitol, White House and other federal buildings.
Walker said about 10,000 guardsmen were in the city as of Saturday morning. That number is expected to continue to climb, Walker said, though ultimately it may fall short of 25,000.
“I think we'll have the 25,000,” he said. “We’ll be between 22,000 and 25,000.”
The additional guardsmen were requested by the Secret Service, which is coordinating efforts ahead of the inauguration, to man the outer ring of the city’s security bubble, Walker said.
The heavy military presence entails a significant logistical undertaking. The National Guard has “hundreds and hundreds” of buses in use to move guardsmen to assignments, and is using about 70 hotels across the region, Walker said. Outside the armory, scores of charter buses lined a street by the defunct RFK Stadium.
The situation also has created unusual public relations challenges for the military.
After photographs of troops in military uniforms sleeping on the floors of the Capitol were published this week, military officials clarified that those personnel were taking breaks between shifts and had hotel rooms when off duty. Senior U.S. officials nonetheless decided to send cots, which were due to begin arriving Saturday.
The decision, first reported by Politico, came with “guidance” from Gen. James McConville, the chief of staff of the Army, that troops who are resting in the Capitol “are to lay on a cot, and not on the ground,” according to a memo reviewed by The Washington Post. A defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity, said McConville directed the Army staff to make sure that the guardsmen had what they needed.
In the interview, Walker for the first time publicly addressed comments from former Capitol Police chief Steven Sund, who resigned after the attack.
Sund, speaking to The Post on Jan. 10, said he called Walker two days before Trump’s rally, concerned about intelligence that suggested there could be anti-government violence. Sund said he asked Walker to lean forward if help was needed. But no one ever asked for additional forces to be activated, and the 340 guardsmen who had been activated had a narrow mission approved that included working at traffic-control points and Metro stations.
“We have people in this armory every day,” Walker said, acknowledging he took Sund’s call. “But we never got an official request that has to go up the chain of command. We didn’t get that until the day of, and the Capitol already was under duress.”
Guardsmen arrived at the Capitol at about 5:40 p.m., after police had expelled rioters from inside, according to the Pentagon’s timeline of events. The situation remained tense, Walker said, but no guardsmen were injured as they helped police establish a security perimeter around the building.
Walker predicted it will take several days after the inauguration for the number of National Guard members in the city to recede, and said that his force will be ready if any additional requests from the Secret Service or other agencies follow.
“We are there when we are called upon,” he said. “There is a process to have the National Guard support.”