A day before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, Pentagon officials confirmed that 12 National Guard members have been removed from the Washington, D.C., security effort after they were flagged as part of an FBI vetting process.
Two Guard members were flagged for making "inappropriate comments" and are being sent home, Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters at the Pentagon.
"They were both here in Washington, and they are both being sent home," he said.
It's unclear what caused the other 10 Guard members to be flagged by the FBI, but Hoffman said the reasons were not necessarily related to extremist activity.
"It's a lot of looking back at anything that can potentially flag in a criminal history check, anything that can come up in a civilian database that is being scrubbed by our partners," he explained but refused to go into details about the vetting process. "We are just not taking any chances. Anything flagged, any reason that someone's name is brought to the chain of command, they are being removed from the line. We will ask questions later."
The announcement comes as the Guard presence in D.C. has swelled to 25,000 members, contributed by all 50 states and territories in response to the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol.
A week after the riot, law enforcement arrested Virginia Guard Cpl. Jabob Fracker, an infantryman and former Marine, for his role in the attack. Fracker, a Virginia police officer, was the first serving member of the U.S. military to be arrested after the riot, which resulted in the deaths of six people.
"Extremism is not tolerated in any branch of the United States military," Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters. "I visit with these men and women every night, and they understand the importance of this mission. They are also proven, prepared and proud to do their part to ensure a peaceful and safe inauguration for our 46th commander in chief."
Pentagon officials would not explain what was "inappropriate" about the two Guard members' comments. One was identified by the Guard's chain of command, and the other was named in an anonymous tip, Hokanson said.
"We are a close-knit organization, and we keep an eye on each other," he said. "And if anything doesn't seem right, if we see something, we are going to go ahead and report it."
Hokanson stressed that the Guard decided to pull the members from D.C. out of an "abundance of caution," not because they have been proven guilty of anything.
Hoffman said the Pentagon has no concerns about the professionalism of the Guard force in D.C. "The American people should have confidence in the National Guard," he said.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who serves as the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he has confidence in the Guard but supported conducting additional vetting to screen those deploying to D.C.
"Any time you have a mission of this nature, and especially in the wake of horrific political violence the nation was subjected to, you have to have appropriate screening measures in place," Reed said in a statement. "I am grateful to the men and women of the National Guard. These citizen-soldiers come from all across the country and across the political spectrum. Every one of them volunteered, and they all make tremendous sacrifices to keep our country safe.
"Our National Guardsmen and women are a source of great pride, strength, and security," he added. "I have tremendous faith in them and abiding admiration for their service."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.