Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved a request by the U.S. Capitol Police for continued National Guard support through May 23, according to a Pentagon statement. The number of Guard troops to continue the support mission at the Capitol will be about half of the 5,100 to 5,200 currently patrolling the site.
They had been scheduled to leave this weekend prior to the extension.
“During this extended period, DOD officials will work with the U.S. Capitol Police to incrementally reduce the National Guard footprint as conditions allow. We thank the National Guard for its support throughout this mission, as well as for its significant efforts across the nation in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic,” the department announced.
“It’s not just about a threat assessment, it’s about assisting and supporting capabilities that the Capitol Police may now lack and may need to look at improving on their own,” he said, adding that Capitol Police and their capabilities “may not be at the level where [they] need to be, given the fact that we’re in sort of a new environment in this country.”
The Capitol Police last week requested the Pentagon to extend the National Guard’s support on Capitol Hill beyond March 12. In a statement, the Capitol Police said it was “extremely grateful for the Department of Defense and the National Guard support provided since January 6th.”
Capitol Police Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman, who made the formal request, on March 3 told the House Legislative Branch Subcommittee in her prepared testimony (pdf) that the level of existential threats to the U.S. Capitol and the surrounding area “are increasing,” citing Jan. 6, when the Capitol building was breached as congressional proceedings were underway to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election.
The violence occurred amid otherwise peaceful protests that were taking place in surrounding areas, calling for election integrity.
“On the Capitol Complex, the level of existential threats to the U.S. Capitol and Grounds are increasing as well,” she said. “This was abundantly clear on January 6, 2021, when insurrectionists attempted to prevent the Congress from certifying the 2020 Electoral College results by storming the U.S. Capitol. Due to the heroic actions of USCP officers, with the assistance of the Metropolitan Police Department, the National Guard, and many other of our law enforcement partners, the violent rioters were prevented from accomplishing their goal.”
Then-President Donald Trump in the week after Jan. 6 repeatedly called for peace and repeatedly condemned the violence that took place that day.
“The incursion of the U.S. Capitol struck at the very heart of our republic. It angered and appalled millions of Americans across the political spectrum,” Trump said on Jan. 13. “I want to be very clear, I unequivocally condemn the violence that we saw last week. Violence and vandalism have absolutely no place in our country and no place in our movement.”
It’s unclear who or what groups instigated the breach of the building, but a video of the event shows a known left-wing activist encouraging and convincing Capitol police to let trespassers through at several points.
The civil unrest on the Capitol grounds included the shooting death by Capitol Police of a woman who was part of the throng of people who entered the Capitol and clashed with police; three other protestors reportedly died from medical conditions. Meanwhile, a U.S. Capitol Police officer who had protected lawmakers during the riot was confirmed dead by the department on Jan. 7. The FBI “cannot disclose the cause of death.”
National Guard members were deployed after the Jan. 6 Capitol breach, and more than 20,000 were on hand during the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Joe Biden. Officials also set up a nonscalable fence topped with razor wire around the Capitol facility.