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DC National Guard commander says the Pentagon took away authority to send in a quick reaction force to respond to Capitol riots

Business Insider logo Business Insider 1/26/2021 rpickrell@businessinsider.com (Ryan Pickrell)
a group of people in uniform standing in front of a crowd: National Guard troops assemble outside of the U.S. Capitol on January 16, 2021 in Washington, DC Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images © Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images National Guard troops assemble outside of the U.S. Capitol on January 16, 2021 in Washington, DC Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images
  • The commander of the DC National Guard told The Washington Post that the Pentagon restricted his ability to send in a quick reaction force to respond to the Capitol riots.
  • Instead, he had to get approval from higher-up the chain of command.
  • "I absolutely wish I could have got there sooner," Maj. Gen. William Walker told The Post. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The Pentagon put restrictions on the DC National Guard commander's authority to send in a quick reaction force to respond to the Capitol riots earlier this month, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

"All military commanders normally have immediate response authority to protect property, life, and in my case, federal functions - federal property and life," Maj. Gen. William Walker told The Post. "But in this instance I did not have that authority."

In the days before the violent riots at the Capitol, which left five people dead, the Pentagon approved the activation of 340 DC National Guard troops, which included a quick reaction force of roughly 40 members staged at Joint Base Andrews, according to the Department of Defense.

On Jan. 4, then-acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller reportedly sent a memo to then-Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy telling him that he needed the defense secretary's approval to send in Guard members with weapons, armor, or riot gear. McCarthy retained authority to send in the quick reaction force, but "only as a last resort," The Post reported.

The next day, McCarthy sent a memo to Walker prohibiting the general from deploying the quick reaction force without his approval.

Walker told The Post that he talked with Steven Sund, who recently resigned as the Capitol Police chief, ahead of the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, where a pro-Trump mob forced their way inside in hopes of overturning the results of the 2020 presidential elections.

"All he said was, 'If I call you, will you be able to help?" Walker recalled. "And I said, 'Yes, but I need permission. So send a formal request,' and I never got it, until after the fact." Sund reportedly did not contact Walker for assistance until about 1:49 pm, around 25 minutes before rioters broke into the Capitol.

"I told him I had to get permission from the secretary of the Army and I would send him all available guardsmen but as soon as I got permission to do so," the general added.

During phone calls between senior leaders in the Pentagon and other parties involved in the response, some officials reportedly raised questions about how it would look to the public by deploying more Guardsmen.

There was concern about a repeat of what happened last summer, when the National Guard was sharply criticized for its heavy-handed reaction to racial justice protests in Washington, DC, which included rotor-washing protesters with a low-flying helicopter.

It was not until just after 3:00 pm that day that the full activation of the DC National Guard was approved in response to the events at the Capitol.

"Do I wish I could have got there sooner?" Walker told the Post. "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."

Miller, who was acting Pentagon chief during the riots, told Vanity Fair recently that claims the Pentagon was slow to react are "complete horse---t."

He said: "I know for an absolute fact that historians are going to look … at the actions that we did on that day and go, 'Those people had their game together.'"

Walker and McCarthy are expected to discuss the military response to the Capitol riots with lawmakers Tuesday.

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