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Get the Troops Out of DC

Summary:
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a national terrorism bulletin yesterday, warning that extremists ‘may be emboldened’ by the 6 January riot at the Capitol to ‘incite or commit violence’. This alert came the day after reports that the 7,000 National Guard currently on duty in Washington, DC will remain until ‘at least’ the end of March. Just consider how extraordinary these measures are. This is the first-ever DHS terrorism bulletin that targets domestic American citizens. The Biden administration is saying that the attack on the Capital was not simply a riot but an act of terrorism. For the first time, they are publicly announcing that far-right organisations and Trump supporters should be labelled terrorists

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The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a national terrorism bulletin yesterday, warning that extremists ‘may be emboldened’ by the 6 January riot at the Capitol to ‘incite or commit violence’. This alert came the day after reports that the 7,000 National Guard currently on duty in Washington, DC will remain until ‘at least’ the end of March.

Just consider how extraordinary these measures are. This is the first-ever DHS terrorism bulletin that targets domestic American citizens. The Biden administration is saying that the attack on the Capital was not simply a riot but an act of terrorism. For the first time, they are publicly announcing that far-right organisations and Trump supporters should be labelled terrorists on a par with al-Qaeda or the Islamic State.

The militarisation of the nation’s capital is also remarkable – and worrying. Federal call-ups of the National Guard are rare, having been used only 16 times since the founding. Such deployments have typically sought to quell specific, ongoing riots, such as those in Detroit in 1967 or the riots that followed the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles in 1992. But there is no such violence in DC at the moment, nor any imminent threat of it. Some 26,000 National Guard were deployed in advance of Joe Biden’s inauguration last week, based on hyped-up reports of a ‘heightened threat environment’ in DC and state capitals. But in the event nothing much happened (the only notable attack was Antifa smashing up windows of the Democratic Party offices in Portland).

To go to such lengths – to issue a warning to the public about terrorism in its midst, and to maintain thousands of troops in the nation’s capital – would seem to require a compelling rationale, like a significant and impending threat of violence. But not now. The DHS’s bulletin admits they lack evidence of a ‘specific, credible plot’. Likewise, deploying the National Guard in DC has not been explained by reference to any immediate danger. Politico reports that law-enforcement agencies are ‘preparing for potential unrest in the coming days and weeks, as former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial kicks off and his supporters issue threats to lawmakers’. The Associated Press says a US official told it that federal law-enforcement officials are examining ‘ominous chatter’ about attacking or killing legislators. But ‘potential unrest’ during an impeachment trial and internet ‘chatter’ are hardly the basis for having thousands of military patrol the streets. What we’re witnessing in DC now is highly unusual: the use of the National Guard on a pre-emptive basis, for an unspecified length of time.

The massing of troops in DC is disproportionate. Thousands of military were not even needed to stop the Capitol riot, where a hundred or so additional police would have sufficed (the acting head of the DC Capitol police has admitted they were unprepared). In a democracy, the deployment of the military in domestic affairs should be a last resort, used against an immediate and major threat. That’s not the case here in DC or across the country now.

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