WASHINGTON (AP) – The Pentagon has approved the deployment of 700 unarmed National Guard troops in the country’s capital as they prepare for convoys of trucks planning protests against pandemic restrictions that begin next week.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday approved a request from the District of Columbia and U.S. Capitol police, the Pentagon said in a statement Tuesday night.
The Pentagon said troops would be used to help control traffic during demonstrations expected in the city in the coming days. Four hundred Guards members from the District of Columbia Guard will join 300 Guards members from other states, the statement said.
Guards members will not carry firearms and will not participate in law enforcement or internal surveillance, the Pentagon said.
Following the recent protests of truckers in Canada, individual convoys of trucks have been planned through online forums with names such as the People’s Convoy and the American Trucks Freedom Fund – all with different starting points, departure dates and routes. Some are due to arrive in time for President Joe Biden’s speech on the state of the Union on March 1, although others may arrive later.
The columns are following a recent protest by Canadian truckers, which closed the busiest U.S.-Canadian border crossing and besieged the streets of the Ottawa capital for weeks in protest of the government’s pandemic restrictions. Last week, police broke multiple blockades, detaining more than 100 people.
It remains to be seen whether any of the U.S. convoys will seek to actively close the streets of Washington, as their Canadian counterparts in Ottawa did. Some convoy organizers spoke of plans to take a short ride around the city and then focus on closing the Colossus Road that surrounds the capital.
The statement of the “People’s Convoy” specifically states that the trucks “will NOT go to DC.” This convoy plans to depart on Wednesday from Southern California and arrive in the District of Columbia around March 5th.
U.S. convoys are pushing for the immediate lifting of what they see as tough government pandemic restrictions such as mask mandates and vaccine requirements. The American Truckers Freedom Fund website says the group is protesting against “an unscientific, unconstitutional attempt by the federal government.”
The vaccines have proven highly effective in preventing COVID-19 infections, especially severe illness and death, and high-quality masks provide strong protection against the spread or infection of the disease. Public sentiment, especially among conservatives, changes against government mandates when the pandemic comes in its third year.
The organizer of the “People’s Convoy” Mike Landis in a video response to the group’s website said that the current vaccine against COVID “has not yet been proven”, but supports individual choice, to take it or not. Landis said the convoy was open to all vehicles, and said the main goal was to put pressure on Biden to lift the state of emergency.
“We want this government to return the Constitution,” Landis said. “We do not want to be under a dictatorial regime similar to communism, as we are now.”
In March 2020, US President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in the United States. Last week, Biden announced plans to extend it after the current March 1 expiration date.
Websites that organize convoys of American truckers directly link to the inspiration of the Canadian movement. A statement on the People’s Convoy website pays tribute to “our brave and courageous neighbors in the north – our Canadian brothers and sisters who led the attack.”
The head of the metropolitan police department Robert Conti said on Friday that his department is closely monitoring the change in information and over the next few weeks will devote additional working hours to the police on high alert. He, meanwhile, warned DC residents to stay alert in the event of unexpected jerks.
“There will be traffic disruptions, things like that,” Conti said. “I think we need to be very honest with the public about what we can see here in the county, based on what we saw in Ottawa.”
Conti called the Ottawa confrontation “an incredible situation – one we haven’t seen here in the District of Columbia.”
Conti and Mayor Muriel Bowser unforgettably predicted unrest a few days before the January 6, 2021 uprising in the Capitol building. They warned residents to stay indoors and called for additional resources, but Capitol police and the National Guard were still caught unprepared when crowds of Trump supporters seized the building, resulting in several deaths and multiple injuries.
Prolonged memories of the disaster have raised concerns and speculation about future convoys. But Bowser said she had not yet warned residents to handle the Capitol area or the National Mall.
“We are not yet able to give specific instructions to the residents. We will, ”Bowser said.