Did a chaotic chain of command send thousands of National Guard troops into parking garages? On Thursday, thousands of Guardsmen were ordered to vacate the warm environs of the U.S. Capitol building and move to various parking garages nearby. The conditions reported by Guardsmen were dismal. A lack of latrines, food or water, and nothing but cold concrete slabs to sit or lie down on. It’s one thing for servicemembers to endure such spartan conditions on deployment overseas or during training, but not while working a detail like a presidential inauguration. To be clear, the parking garages were not assigned as sleeping quarters for these Guardsmen but as a rest area between their shifts.
The National Guard Bureau put out the following statement by Public Affairs Officer Major Matt Murphy: “As Congress is in session and increased foot traffic and business is being conducted, Capitol Police asked the troops to move their rest area. They were temporarily relocated to the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Center garage with heat and restroom facilities. We remain an agile and flexible force to provide for the safety and security of the Capitol and its surrounding areas.”
The claim that the Capitol Police asked the Guardsmen to vacate the Capitol, and pictures of them lying and sitting on the cold floor of these garage locations caused another uproar on social media, similar in tone to the pre-inauguration images of Guardsmen sleeping in the Capitol’s halls and stairwells.
A story by Politico carried this headline: ‘We feel incredibly betrayed’: Thousands of Guardsmen forced to vacate Capitol
Washington Post wrote the following article: “National Guard Members Allowed Back to Capitol After They Were Banished To A Parking Garage”
And the New York Post published this: “National Guardsmen allowed back into Capitol after being ‘banished’ to garage”
As expected, politicians were quick to posture and pounce on the incident with photos of their own, food deliveries, and offers that their own offices inside the Capitol were open to the Guard. This tweet by South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott was typical of the sentiments expressed by politicians, “Our troops deserve the utmost honor & respect for securing the Capitol & defending democracy this week,” he tweeted. “This is unconscionable & unsafe. Whoever’s decision this was [sic] to house our National Guardsmen & women in underground parking lots must be held accountable.”
This reaction may have prompted the Capitol Police to try and distance itself from this newest controversy following withering public criticism of its handling of the unrest at the Capitol building earlier this month. Without acknowledging the prior claim made the spokesman for the National Guard Bureau, the acting head of the Capitol Police Department Yogalanda Pittman issued a conflicting statement:
“I want to assure everyone that, with the exception of specific times on Inauguration Day itself while the swearing-in ceremonies were underway, the United States Capitol police did not instruct the National Guard to vacate the Capitol Building facilities. And on Inauguration Day, the Guard was notified and encouraged to reoccupy the spaces in the Capitol and CVC at 2 p.m.
Over the past several days, the U.S. Capitol Police has been working tirelessly with its Congressional stakeholders to identify appropriate accommodations across the entire Capitol complex for their use.
It was brought to our attention early today that facility management with the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Office Building reached out directly to the National Guard to offer use of its facilities.
As of this morning, all Guardsmen and women have been relocated to space within the Capitol Complex. The Department is also working with the Guard to reduce the need for sleeping accommodations by establishing shorter shifts, and will ensure they have access to the comfortable accommodations they absolutely deserve when the need arises.”
Our own sources inside the National Guard and present in the Capitol offered the following on-the-ground perspective: The day prior to the inauguration the Secret Service wanted to conduct a security sweep of the Capitol building, which is a routine procedure. Thus, Guardsmen using it as a rest area were moved into a nearby garage at the Dirksen building. The Guardsmen were not permitted to return to the Capitol building the day of the event to rest between their shifts. So this move actually occurred on Tuesday, the day of the inauguration rather than on Thursday. Once there, the National Guard troops clustered in the corners of the three-level parking garage building until members of Congress and staffers complained that their presence interfered with them parking their cars. The Guardsmen were then sent down to the first-floor level and told to congregate there. This instruction to move within the garage itself was made by the Capitol Police.
This may explain the seeming contradiction between the statements made by the National Guard Bureau and the Capitol Police.
On Tuesday 19, it was the Secret Service that moved the Guardsmen out of the Capitol building to the garage.
On Thursday 21, the Capitol Police relocated Guardsmen already within the garage since Tuesday to the first floor to make more room for Congressional staff parking.
So it appears that this latest controversy involving the National Guard at the Capitol is a case of the Secret Service and the Capitol Police double-parking them. At least they aren’t giving them parking tickets… yet.