According to The Washington Post, the commander of the D.C. National Guard said his authority was restricted by the Pentagon ahead of the pro-Trump insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The Post reported that the restriction required “higher level sign-off to respond that cost time as the events that day spiraled out of control.”
Local commanders typically have the power to take military action on their own to save lives or prevent significant property damage in an urgent situation when there isn’t enough time to obtain approval from headquarters.
But Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, the commanding general of the District of Columbia National Guard, said the Pentagon essentially took that power and other authorities away from him ahead of a pro-Trump protest on Jan. 6. That meant he couldn’t immediately roll out troops when he received a panicked phone call from the Capitol Police chief warning that rioters were about to enter the U.S. Capitol.
“All military commanders normally have immediate response authority to protect property, life, and in my case, federal functions — federal property and life,” Walker said in an interview. “But in this instance I did not have that authority.”
Per the report, Walker and former Army secretary Ryan C. McCarthy will provide a closed-door briefing on the day’s events to the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.
The military, which isn’t structured to be a first responder like law enforcement, took hours to arrive at the scene primarily because the Capitol Police and the District government hadn’t asked the D.C. Guard to prepare a contingency force for a riot. The Capitol Police chief also didn’t call Walker to tell him a request for Guard backup was imminent until about 25 minutes before rioters breached the Capitol.
But the restrictions the Pentagon placed on Walker also contributed to the delay. He needed to wait for approval from McCarthy and acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller before dispatching troops, even though some 40 National Guard members were on standby as a quick reaction force. That standby force had been assembled in case the few hundred guardsmen deployed that day on the District’s streets to assist police with traffic control and crowd management needed help, Walker said.
The Pentagon has said the highest-level approval for any moves that day was required due to criticism sustained after the D.C. Guard’s response to racial justice protests last year.
“Top officials concluded those maneuvers resulted from ‘fragmentary orders’ that hadn’t received high-level approval and were looking to prevent a repeat of that situation,” The Post reported.
“After June, the authorities were pulled back up to the secretary of defense’s office,” McCarthy said in comments to The Post. “Any time we would employ troops and guardsmen in the city, you had to go through a rigorous process. As you recall, there were events in the summer that got a lot of attention, and that was part of this.”
“Do I wish I could have got there sooner?” Walker said. “Of course. I mean, I think everybody does. I absolutely wish I could have got there sooner. But, you know, I follow orders, and those making the decision went through a decision-making process.”