Bayonets and live bullets. That’s what DC BLM protesters almost faced (They got flash bangs and pepper rounds)

  • Published on June 13th, 2020

As my colleague Mark Sumner pointed out earlier, the National Guard troops called up for duty in controlling the protests in Washington, D.C., were ordered to be tough and aggressive. This wasn’t done, as one might expect, to please Donald Trump, who encourages violence against dissidents in the streets the way he incites people to rough up hecklers at his political rallies. The tactics were instead chosen out of fear that the alternative would be the unleashing of active duty Army units on the protesters.

All the Army troops prepared to move on D.C. BLM protesters were armed with bayonets
George Harris sticks carnations in the M14 gun barrels of the 503rd Military Police Battalion during an anti-war demonstration at the Pentagon on October 21, 1967. The MPs did not have bayonets, but National Guardsmen on duty that day did. And so did the 5-6,000 troops hidden in the Pentagon and other government buildings. The protesters were estimated at 100,000, but only about 35,000 at the Pentagon. About 700 were arrested for civil disobedience. Two years later, half a million protesters would march on Washington. (Credit Bernie Boston, the Washington Evening Star)

By Meteor Blades

Namely, the 700 soldiers of the 82nd Airborne and 800 soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry, which is the oldest existing Army unit and known as the “Old Guard,” so named at an 1847 celebration of victory in the U.S.-Mexican War. It serves as the presidential ceremonial unit, carries out 24-hour sentry duty at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, and provides security in time of civil disturbance.

We learned in early June that the 82nd Airborne had been issued bayonets for use against protesters. On Wednesday, members of Congress learned that the Old Guard unit had also been issued bayonets and live ammunition. Neither unit was ever deployed on the streets, and both have now returned to their usual bases, according to Pentagon officials.

According to a belated June 10 letter to Congress from Defense Secretary Mark Esper and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

“At no point were any weapons loaded or made ready, but in preparation for potential operations in an increased readiness posture, the Old Guard Commander directed the issue of bayonets in scabbards and limited amounts of ammunition to be maintained in pouches.”

That letter, of which The Washington Post has obtained a copy, answered questions from Democratic Rep. Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. But it took an angry follow-up letter from him to pry officials off their butts to respond after they missed the committee’s deadline for answers.

Esper and Milley wrote that active-duty forces “are not currently present and were not ever in the District for purposes of civilian law enforcement.”

But they reiterated that Trump could have invoked the 1807 Insurrection Act to use military forces for law enforcement purposes anywhere in the country. “In the event that a president makes such a decision, he may do so without approval from the state government in which the forces are to be used,” they said. Legal scholars have some caveats for that.

While the letter answers some questions, Smith is still unhappy about the refusal of Esper and Milley to testify at hearings. His staff is working on finding a mutually agreeable date for scheduling that testimony.

So far, both men have refused to agree—following the usual White House playbook.

(Crossposted with DailyKos.)

About the Author

Meteor Blades is a writer and contributing editor at DailyKos. He believes there is something profoundly wrong with our system. - the unchecked accumulation of wealth and power into the hands of a very small group of corporate business interests has contributed to the wholesale corruption of our political system. For an understanding about the level of corruption in our country, he encourages you to view these two PBS documentaries: (1). ,The Untouchables; (2) The United States of ALEC.

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