National Guardsmen protecting Capitol now armed with lethal weapons

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The Pentagon has approved National Guardsmen protecting the U.S. Capitol to carry lethal weapons in the days leading up to the inauguration, as law enforcement continues to receive information about credible threats of violence from armed militia groups, two Guard spokespeople confirmed.

As of 6 p.m. on Tuesday, the Guardsmen who are responsible for security around the Capitol building complex were armed with lethal weapons, US Air National Guard Capt. Chelfi Johnson told POLITICO. The New York Times was the first to report the news.

Johnson declined to say specifically what weapons the Guardsmen would carry but noted that typically they deploy with the M-9 handgun. Previously, they were only carrying protective gear.

The Guardsmen deployed to the Capitol will also carry a protective helmet, gas masks and Kevlar body armor, she said.

She stressed that Guard members are trained to “try everything to de-escalate a situation before having to draw their weapon and use it” as part of civil disturbance response.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy approved the request by federal and local authorities for armed Guardsmen to support law enforcement protecting the Capitol earlier on Tuesday, Johnson said.

Defense officials and civil authorities have been weighing whether to arm up to 15,000 Guardsmen from across the country that are expected to deploy to Washington to respond to violent protests ahead of the inauguration.

Ahead of Wednesday’s storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser deliberately sought to limit the military’s role in the city’s response to planned protests. She requested the Guardsmen deployed to the scene be unarmed.

But that calculus changed in recent days as law enforcement received credible threats of armed militias planning to move on the Capitol in the days leading up to the Jan. 20 inauguration, particularly if the House votes to impeach Trump for a second time Wednesday.

“We want our individuals to have the right to self-defense,” Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters Monday ahead of the decision. “If senior leadership determines that that’s the right posture to be in, then that is something we will do.”

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