WASHINGTON — Standing across the street from the 7-foot tall black metal fence that now surrounds the U.S. Capitol building, National Guard soldiers shifted feet to brace themselves against the cold wind.
Troops from Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York and Virginia joined those from D.C. Leaving their homes and jobs, the Guard troops are here, three days after two Air Force veterans were killed and three others died in an attempted insurrection.
They are here to help ensure it does not happen again.
“I never thought I would see this in my own country,” said one of them, who, like other troops, spoke anonymously without authorization to speak on the record.
The soldier is part of a major mobilization effort that has seen about 6,200 National Guard troops flow into town from several nearby states. The troops are already all in town.
Troops expressed a true sense of duty and urgency, to help protect a city still on edge after the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot stoked by rhetoric from outgoing President Donald Trump and just ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration of his successor, Joe Biden.
Passersby showed their appreciation with nods and thumbs up.
“Thanks for coming,” many said as the hurried past the troops.
Bad moon rising
Even as Washington licks its wounds and tries to recover from an assault on the seat of government, a new wave of unrest may be about to crest.
Those who stormed the Capitol were able to stall, but not end the certification of the 2020 presidential election making Biden the official winner. Now social media is full of posts extolling what’s been dubbed the “Million Militia March” in which Trump supporters will return to the Capitol ahead of the inauguration.
There is chatter about ride shares, where to find lodging in the Washington area — and what to bring. Baseball bats, perhaps, or assault rifles.
“We took the building once,” one commenter posted, according to the Times, “we can take it again.”
The Washington Post reported a call for armed marchers around the nation.
“REFUSE TO BE SILENCED,” said one online post cited by Alethea Group, calling for an “ARMED MARCH ON CAPITOL HILL & ALL STATE CAPITOLS” for Jan. 17, the last Sunday of Trump’s polarizing presidency. Another post called for action at “DC & All State Capitols” and was signed by “common folk who are tired of being tread upon” declares: “We were warned!”
Ready to protect
Guard officials would not comment on the specifics of the Million Militia March.
“The DC National Guard stands ready to support the incident command and is committed to supporting our local and federal agency partners,” said Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Craig Clapper, a DCNG spokesman.
Ready, in this case, may mean that these troops are authorized to stand watch armed, if needed. But that’s something that has yet to happen.
Some of the National Guard troops who have rushed to the nation’s capital brought weapons, but do not initially plan on carrying them, said Clapper.
“We are not carrying weapons now, but any changes in posture will be determined by intel reports and risk assessment,” he said.
For Guard troops standing outside to guard the Capitol, watching the Jan. 6 attack unfold was reminiscent of what many experienced on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We knew right away that we were going to come here,” said one Guard soldier.
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.