The Associated Press
Twelve members of the US National Guard were banned from the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden following an FBI review, including two who made extremist statements in posts or texts about Wednesday’s event. There were no specific threats to Biden.
Two other US officials told The Associated Press that all 12 had links to right-wing militia groups or posted extremist views online. The officers, a senior intelligence officer and an army officer briefed on the matter, did not say which fringe groups the guards belonged to or what unit they were serving. The officers were not allowed to speak publicly and spoke with the AP on condition of anonymity. The officials told the AP that they had all been removed due to « security obligations ».
National Guard chief General Daniel Hokanson confirmed that the members of the Guard had been removed and sent home, but said only two cases concerned inappropriate comments or texts related to the inauguration. He said the other 10 are for other potential issues that may include previous criminal behavior or other activity but not directly related to the opening event.
Their removal from the massive security presence in the country’s capital comes because U.S. Defense officials were concerned about a possible insider attack or other threat from service members following the January 6 deadly uprising by Trump supporters in the U.S. Capitol. The FBI has been working to investigate all of the 25,000 National Guards in the city. Officials have said that the Pentagon has not yet found any information that would indicate an inside threat.
However, the FBI has also warned law enforcement officers of the possibility of fringe right-wing groups posing as members of the National Guard, according to two law enforcement officers familiar with the matter.
Neither Hokanson nor Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman would give details of the comments or texts of the two Guard members. At a Pentagon press conference, Hokanson said one was identified by his chain of command and the other by an anonymous lead.
« Much of the information, » Hoffman said, « has nothing to do with what happened at the Capitol or the concerns many people have identified about extremism. This is an effort to verify the past or possible past behavior Identify the connection with it. » questionable behavior, not just related to extremism. «
Hoffman added that officials are currently not asking questions of those who have been tagged. « We are taking precautionary measures and immediately removing them from the Capitol service and the events that are taking place. »
« And then we will approach them, be it through law enforcement if necessary, or through their own chain of command, » he added.
Washington has been nervous since the deadly Capitol uprising that sparked extraordinary security measures prior to Biden’s inauguration. A fire in a homeless camp about a mile from the Capitol triggered a lockdown Monday during a rehearsal for the inauguration.
US intelligence tightened security in and around the Capitol in preparation days earlier than usual, and the city center is essentially closed off with roads blocked, high fences installed, and tens of thousands of troops and law enforcement officers stationed in the area.
Federal law enforcement officials were also concerned about increased surveillance of military and law enforcement checkpoints and other positions after National Guard forces reported people taking and taping photos, law enforcement officers, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity, said around the ongoing security issues to be discussed.
The Secret Service released a bulletin over the weekend about what it sees as an « upward trend » in National Guard forces and posted pictures and details of their operations online.
The Associated Press received an « All Participants » message to all National Guard forces entering Washington. Without addressing specific postings, the bulletin read, « No service members should post any location, image, or description online of what is going on or the sensitive sites they are protecting, » and urged them to stop immediately.
When asked about the bulletin, a spokesman for the secret service issued a statement saying that he « does not make any comments on matters of protective intelligence ».
The National Guard Bureau, contacted by the AP on Tuesday morning, referred questions to US intelligence, saying, « For operational security reasons, we are not discussing the process or the outcome of the review process for service members supporting the inauguration. »
During the summer a man was arrested in Los Angeles for posing as a member of the National Guard during protests in the city near Los Angeles City Hall. The man, Gregory Wong, carried a sidearm and an assault rifle but was taken into custody after real Guardsmen confronted him when they noticed that something was out of place on his uniform.
The U.S. National Guard walks in walk near the Capitol as security increases ahead of the inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris on Sunday, January 17, 2021 in Washington. (AP Photo / Julio Cortez)
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