The Department of Defense is considering activating National Guard units to respond to a possible protest by truck convoys in the nation's capital later this week, according to a statement released Tuesday.
"The Department is analyzing a request for assistance from the US Capitol Police and the DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency," Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in an emailed statement.
"Those agencies have asked for National Guard personnel to provide support at traffic control points in and around the District to help the USCP and DC government address potential challenges stemming from possible disruptions at key traffic arteries," Kirby added, before noting that "no decisions have been made yet to approve these requests."
The protests in the U.S. come on the heels of a weeks-long blockade in Canada by a "Freedom Convoy" of truckers opposing the country's COVID-19 mandates and policies, snarling traffic in that country's capital of Ottawa. Although the protests were ostensibly organized around opposition to the vaccine mandate that requires all Canadian truckers crossing the U.S.-Canadian border to be fully vaccinated or face a two-week quarantine, statements issued by a group that purports to speak for the movement have said they seek the "end of all vaccine mandates."
After donor data from crowdfunding website GiveSendGo was hacked and released, several media outlets reported that the movement was financed in large part by donors in the United States. The Intercept reported that its analysis showed that "hundreds of donors are members of the Oath Keepers, an American far-right paramilitary organization" and that Thomas Siebel, an American billionaire businessman, gave $90,000 -- the largest individual donation.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that an analysis of U.S. ZIP codes from the dataset showed that "the richer an American community was, the more likely residents there were to donate, and the biggest number of contributions often came from communities where registered Republicans made up solid majorities."
On Friday, U.S. Capitol Police said that they, along with other law enforcement groups in the D.C. area, were "aware of plans for a series of truck convoys arriving in Washington, DC around the time of the State of the Union."
President Joe Biden's first State of the Union is scheduled for Tuesday, March 1.
Kirby's statement confirmed that help from the National Guard had been requested, but made clear that its participation is not yet guaranteed.
The Capitol Police said that a "temporary inner-perimeter fence" could also be part of its security plans but stressed that "at this time no decision has been made."
"As with any demonstration, the USCP will facilitate lawful First Amendment activity," the Capitol Police said in a press release.
The last major deployment of National Guard troops to the nation's capital and, more specifically, to the U.S. Capitol building itself, was in the days following Jan. 6, 2021, when a throng of rioters burst through police lines and caused millions of dollars of damage to the landmark. The mob's goal was to halt the certification of the election results that declared Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 election.
The Guard ended up being deployed in the city, in some capacity, for about four months.
Unlike states, in which governors can swiftly deploy the National Guard, D.C. has no elected official with such authority. Instead, it has traditionally fallen to the secretary of the Army to approve requests. However, following the events of Jan. 6, the Pentagon has streamlined that process and delegated the power to deploy the National Guard solely to the secretary of defense.
-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.