Days later, Chief J. Thomas Manger instead asked for unarmed Guard members after conferring with the official, Senate Sergeant at Arms Karen Gibson and the Pentagon, according to internal correspondence and three people familiar with the discussions. The Guard members would be armed only with batons and would be accompanied by armed police.
On Friday morning, the Defense Department approved the request for support, saying unarmed soldiers will be stationed at the D.C. Armory and will deploy only if necessary. It’s highly unusual for armed National Guard members to respond to protests, and strict rules must be followed in such cases.
But the change to the chief’s original security plans infuriated some Capitol Police officials. They privately argued it was a foolhardy repeat of a central mistake that had left the Capitol so vulnerable during the Jan. 6 insurrection — not preparing for the worst — according to interviews with three people familiar with the dispute.
Gibson, a retired Army lieutenant general, said the modified request was based on conversations with Pentagon officials and that she did not oppose the idea of having armed Guard members on standby. The fact that part of the request was changed was “incidental,” she wrote in an email to The Washington Post.
“I asked the USCP to drop a request that had not been coordinated. That uncoordinated request happened to be for armed Guard,” she wrote, saying they then conferred with Pentagon officials. “At the end of those planning session, we agreed jointly that this request was the best use of potential DoD assets within that specific context.”
Manger on Friday said there was no dispute between himself and Gibson over whether the Guard should be armed on Saturday.
“The Capitol Police Board has been nothing but helpful. They have been nothing but supportive,” he said at a news conference, referring to the oversight body Gibson chairs. “So when we talked about the issue of putting the National Guard on standby, or calling for the National Guard assistance, we had a discussion. And everybody had different perspectives and different thoughts about it … In the end, we were all in agreement for what we asked for.”
In a statement, Defense Department spokesman Chris Mitchell said soldiers on Saturday would serve only in a support capacity “to help protect the U.S. Capitol Building and Congressional Office buildings by manning building entry points and verifying credentials of individuals seeking access to the building.”
Asked Thursday if representatives of the Defense Department had spoken with Gibson or Manger and discouraged the request for armed soldiers, Mitchell said there were discussions about the deployment and such conversations are “not out of the ordinary.” Mitchell said he was unaware of the “interagency or internal discussions that led to the current request” for unarmed soldiers.
The behind-the-scenes revisions over the requested National Guard deployment lay bare how, despite the clear failure to protect the building on Jan. 6, Congress hasn’t fixed the disjointed Capitol Police command structure that contributed to that failure.
As was the case before Jan. 6, Capitol Police brass cannot act independently on the intelligence and security threats they see. Instead they still must seek approval from the little-known Capitol Police Board, consisting of the sergeants at arms for the House and Senate and the architect of the Capitol, which votes on what actions the police chief can take. All three are unelected political appointees, the board’s meetings are private and its decisions and documents are not subject to records laws and other public disclosure requirements.
Law enforcement officials have said they are taking extensive measures to prepare for Saturday’s “Justice for J6” rally, the cause, like Jan. 6, which has been touted by former president Donald Trump. Planned largely by a former Trump campaign operative, the rally has the goal of getting charges dropped against nonviolent Jan. 6 protesters. Roughly 700 people are expected to attend, and Capitol Police have developed a robust plan to avoid any replay of Jan. 6.
A fence has been erected around the Capitol. Local police forces outside Washington and the D.C. police have offered a total of 1,600 officers to assist the Capitol Police. Manger had also asked last week for 100 armed National Guard in case of a truly violent situation.
Gibson is the chair of the Capitol Police Board, which oversees Manger’s decisions. She was appointed to her position this spring to replace part of the security team that was sharply faulted in the Jan. 6 attack — specifically for rejecting the Capitol Police chief’s request for emergency National Guard backup that day.
In a Tuesday email obtained by The Post, Gibson told fellow board officials and senior Capitol Police leaders that she and Manger had “just concluded a productive conversation with DoD.” As a result, Gibson wrote, the chief would “retract the 10 September (request for assistance)” and submit a new request that is “more in line with the support framework worked out with DoD following the January insurrection.”
In his original Sept. 10 request to prepare for the rally, Manger wrote that he was requesting “100 armed Guardsmembers QRF team,” a reference to a quick reaction force of the D.C. National Guard. The Guard members would have been on standby at the D.C. Armory. In the second request submitted after Tuesday, the Capitol Police asked for a National Guard team that “will be unarmed aside from the use of batons.” It specified that “an armed USCP officer will be present with the NG personnel at all times.”
A spokesperson for Gibson said the Senate sergeant at arms requested the chief drop his request because it “was submitted outside the agreed-upon process with DoD” and wanted him to “resubmit in accordance with the planning framework.”
“This had nothing to do with a request for armed or unarmed forces,” spokeswoman Becky Fontaine said.
When asked why the request that Gibson wanted to drop had sought armed forces and the new request that Gibson endorsed asked for unarmed forces, Fontaine said it was the result of good discussions and planning.
“If there is a change between a request for armed versus unarmed forces, it’s due to the results of a detailed planning discussion between security professionals on how to best utilize Department of Defense resources if needed,” Fontaine said. She said there was “absolutely no daylight” between Manger and his boss, Gibson.
House Deputy Sergeant at Arms Kevin Grubbs, who received Gibson’s Tuesday email, did not respond to an email and phone call from The Post seeking comment. His boss, House Sergeant at Arms William J. Walker, is traveling in Europe with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and also did not respond to an email.
Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton, the third voting member of the board, referred questions to Gibson and Capitol Police.
The congressional leaders who control the Capitol Police Board also didn’t provide any insights into the security planning.
Spokespeople for Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. A spokesperson for Pelosi also did not provide any comment.
There is a deja vu quality to Gibson’s rejection of Manger’s first request.
Michael Stenger, the former Senate sergeant at arms, and former House sergeant at arms Paul Irving, who were both retired Secret Service executives, resigned their posts in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection, following conclusions that the Capitol Police were unprepared for the large crowds that came to Washington that day.
The Post revealed soon after the attack that, just a few days before Jan. 6, both men had rejected then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund’s request to have the National Guard on standby at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Sund made the request in light of new intelligence suggesting much larger crowds would be attending at Trump’s urging and that some protesters pledged to bring weapons and engage in violence at the Capitol.
Sund, who resigned his post the day after the Jan. 6 assault, told The Post that his supervisors were reluctant to summon the Guard because they were concerned about the optics of stationing the military on the Capitol grounds and feared the leadership of the Senate and House would not like it either. He blamed the board’s prior sergeants at arms for not supporting his request in the days leading up to Jan. 6 to request that assistance from the D.C. National Guard and his request to declare an emergency that would allow him to tap their help be approved.
Deploying armed National Guard soldiers to protests has been a fraught decision since 1970, when Ohio Guardsmen killed four students at Kent State University during an antiwar rally.
The Defense Department stiffened its guidelines for use of force during domestic disturbances after that, and in many states and the District, Guard commanders now coordinate with local and state law enforcement so that sworn police officers constitute the first line of authorities who engage with protesters. Guard soldiers typically form a second line behind them, designed to keep protesters from breaking police lines and to move away arrestees, freeing up officers to re-
engage with protesters.
On Jan. 6, there were no Guard soldiers present to form that second line of defense, and when Capitol Police called for help, it took hours for the Pentagon to approve the deployment of a quick reaction force that Walker, then the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, had stationed outside Washington.
In the days that followed, thousands of armed Guard troops were deployed across D.C., forming a human wall around the Capitol, until a fence could be erected. Hundreds remained on duty daily at the Capitol for months, augmenting a shellshocked Capitol Police force.
For Saturday, the security fence around the Capitol has been temporarily reinstalled and Capitol Police released a statement Monday, saying the department is confident in its planning for the rally.
But the bureaucratic blockade Capitol Police have faced in having the National Guard at the ready as a deterrent force highlights how recommendations made to improve security in D.C. after Jan. 6 remain unaddressed.
A security review commissioned by Pelosi and led by Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré concluded that the insurrection should force the federal government to wrestle with its lack of a quick-reaction force in the nation’s capital.
Honoré’s team recommended that either existing federal law enforcement officers stationed in D.C. train to function as such a team or the D.C. National Guard house such a team made up of its own members, or of members of other states’ Guard units who would rotate through D.C. on three-to-six-month rotations.
At a minimum, however, both Honoré and Senate committees have recommended that the Capitol Police chief have authority to request National Guard support without preapproval from the Capitol Police Board.
Currently, the board must declare an emergency before seeking help from the Pentagon. “This process can constrain USCP’s ability to act quickly in an emergency and delay the provision of assistance,” the committees concluded in their investigative report.
In this case, the board has preemptively declared an emergency, but even that hasn’t cleared the way for Manger to seek armed support from the Guard.