Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy has authorized National Guard members providing security around the U.S. Capitol to carry lethal weapons as Washington, D.C., braces for violence leading up to Inauguration Day.
As thousands of Guard troops arrive in the city, U.S. military officials have been reluctant to discuss the possible use of lethal force in case of violent incidents like the Jan. 6 riot that breached the Capitol and resulted in six deaths.
That changed Tuesday evening.
"At approximately 6 p.m. January 12, 2021, National Guard members will be armed in support of the U.S. Capitol security," according to a D.C. National Guard statement. "This was requested by federal authorities and authorized by the Secretary of the Army."
The New York Times first reported this story.
The National Guard Bureau declined to specify what weapons troops would carry.
"National Guard members are postured to meet the requirements of the supported civil authorities, up to and including protective equipment and being armed if necessary," according to the statement. "The public's safety is our top priority."
Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters Monday that a force of up to 15,000 will deploy to D.C. with all their issued equipment, including their individual weapons. So if the need arises, "they are close by and they are readily accessible."
The order may have evolved as more Guard troops deployed since the first reinforcements were rushed in the evening of Jan. 6.
Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead, commander of the Maryland Army National Guard, told Military.com that the 500 soldiers from her state's 175th Infantry and the 115th Military Police battalions who began arriving the morning after the breach of the Capitol have no lethal weapons but brought along riot shields and face protection.
The Pentagon initially authorized up to 6,200 Guard members from Maryland, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania to deploy to D.C. on federal status to maintain security through Inauguration Day after hundreds of Trump supporters pushed past police on Jan.6 and began smashing windows and destroying offices inside the Capitol.
About 10,000 Guard members are expected to arrive in D.C. by Saturday, but that number could grow to 15,000, Hokanson said.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.