500 Wisconsin Guard Troops Deployed Ahead of Rittenhouse Verdict

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National Guardsmen guard a street near a high school in Kenosha, Wis., after the shooting of Jacob Blake.
Members of a National Guard unit guard a street near the entrance of Bradford High School and a largely white neighborhood in Kenosha, Wis., on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, as tensions remain high in the city following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man. (Russell Contreras/AP Photo)

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has deployed 500 National Guard troops to the Kenosha area as the homicide trial of Kyle Rittenhouse comes to an end. 

Closing arguments are expected to begin Monday, after which the jury will deliberate. 

The Guardsmen will remain on standby unless law enforcement requests their backup on the streets. The mission is made up of soldiers from multiple units from the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, according to a Guard spokesperson who would not go into detail on where the troops are staged, citing security concerns.  

For civil unrest missions, Guardsmen often deploy with batons and riot shields and, in some cases, M4 rifles and less-than-lethal munitions such as rubber bullet weapons. Last year, 1,200 Wisconsin troops responded to protests in Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Racine and Kenosha. 

"I urge folks who are otherwise not from the area to please respect the community by reconsidering any plans to travel there and encourage those who might choose to assemble and exercise their First Amendment rights to do so safely and peacefully," Evers said in a statement. 

Guardsmen have been deployed frequently by governors in the last few years, especially during civil unrest. In 2020, units responded to dozens of protests -- including one in Kentucky during which Guardsmen shot and killed a protester. The protests were mostly reactions to the police killings of George Floyd and other unarmed Black Americans. During that summer, protests culminated in a violent showdown between Guardsmen and law enforcement against protesters in front of the White House. 

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The Wisconsin Guard is being deployed under state active-duty orders, meaning the soldiers remain under the command of the governor and the mission is fully funded by the state. Because of that, troops don't earn federal benefits such as the GI Bill, and they cannot claim disability through the Department of Veterans Affairs if injured.

Rittenhouse, 18, is charged with six criminal counts in the deaths of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and injuring Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, in Kenosha. He has pleaded not guilty on all charges. Rittenhouse was 17 on Aug. 25, 2020, when he carried an assault rifle on the streets of Kenosha during chaotic protests after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back by a white police officer who has not faced charges.

Rittenhouse faces a possible life sentence. 

"We stand ready to support our communities during times of need," Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp, Wisconsin's adjutant general, said in a statement. "In close coordination with the governor, we have assembled approximately 500 Soldiers to help keep the Kenosha community safe, should a request from our local partners come in."

-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

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