Two Army National Guard members are being removed from the mission to secure Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration. A U.S. Army official and a senior U.S. intelligence official say the two National Guard members have been found to have ties to fringe right group militias.
No plot against Biden was found.
The Army official and the intelligence official spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity due to Defense Department media regulations. They did not say what fringe group the Guard members belonged to or what unit they served in.
Contacted by the AP on Tuesday, the National Guard Bureau referred questions to the U.S. Secret Service and said, “Due to operational security, we do not discuss the process nor the outcome of the vetting process for military members supporting the inauguration.”
The Secret Service told the AP on Monday it would not comment on if any National Guard members had been pulled from securing the inauguration for operational security reasons.
Such a move is not without precedent.
Over the summer, an Ohio National Guard member was removed from the mission in Washington, D.C., after the FBI uncovered information indicating they expressed white supremacist ideology on the internet prior to the assignment.
The individual was a soldier from the Ohio Guard’s Company C, 1st Battalion, 148th Infantry Regiment, based in the northwest part of the state. The soldier was a private first class who has been a member since May 2018, said Ohio Guard spokeswoman Stephanie Beougher in a statement.
Threats external and internal
Sunday night, the Associated Press reported that U.S. defense officials say they are worried about an insider attack or other threat from service members involved in securing President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, prompting the FBI to vet all of the 25,000 National Guard troops coming into Washington for the event.
And while the military routinely reviews service members for extremist connections, the FBI screening is in addition to any previous monitoring.
National Guard troops are filling the capital, as well as many around the nation, because of threats by right wing extremist groups still loyal to President Donald Trump in the wake of the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol siege and ahead of the planned Biden inauguration.
With one Virginia National Guard soldier and many veterans among the scores arrested in the wake of the Capitol siege that saw five people die — including Brian Sicknick, an Air Force veteran and Capitol police officer killed after a rioter hit him in the head with a fire extinguisher — the military was taking no chances with who was coming to protect the inauguration.
“All incoming National Guard members supporting the DCNG, local and federal authorities go through a credentialing process,” said Air Force Maj. Matt Murphy, a National Guard Bureau spokesman.
Murphy would not elaborate on what kind of screening, but said the information is shared with the requesting federal agencies and added to their database.
“We cannot speak for those agencies and how they use the information,” he said.
On Saturday, Defense One reported that all Guard troops coming to D.C. go through a screening that is “about the same” as the standard background check that Guardsmen go through when they initially enlist, the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard told Defense One in an interview on Saturday. It is intended as “another layer” of security on top of continuous monitoring of the force, he said.
“For this deployment everybody is screened additionally, but it’s more of a reassurance, because we do everything we can do know our Guardsmen, our soldiers and airmen,” Major General William Walker said.
Repeating what Guard officials told Military Times last week, Murphy said that the NGB is working with the Secret Service to determine which service members supporting the national special security event for the Inauguration require additional background screening.
“Per Department of Defense policy, all service members are trained annually on the Threat Awareness and Reporting Program (TARP) which requires department personnel to report any information regarding known or suspected extremist behavior that could be a threat to the department or the United States,” said Murphy. “The D.C. National Guard is also providing additional training to service members as they arrive in D.C. that if they see or hear something that is not appropriate, they should report it to their chain of command. There is no place for extremism in the military and we will investigate each report individually and take appropriate action.”
The Army, said Murphy, “is committed to working closely with the F.B.I. as they identify people who participated in the violent attack on the Capitol to determine if the individuals have any connection to the Army. Any type of activity that involves violence, civil disobedience, or a breach of peace may be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice or under state or federal law.
Last week, Jacob Fracker, 29, and Thomas “T.J.” Robertson, 47, were arrested and charged in federal court Wednesday on one count of knowingly entering a restricted building without lawful authority and one count of violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, according to a federal criminal complaint.
Fracker is a corporal and an infantryman with the Virginia Army National Guard, while Robertson previously served as a military policeman in the Army Reserve. Fracker is the first active service member known to be charged in connection to the Capitol riot.
Both men were photographed inside the Capitol building. In a photo included in the complaint, Fracker appears to be giving his middle finger to the camera in front of a statue of John Stark, an American Revolution veteran who led troops at the Battle of Bennington in New York.
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