WASHINGTON, DC — A dozen National Guard members have been removed from inauguration duty after going through enhanced vetting procedures, defense officials said Tuesday.
In the wake of the Capitol attack, the US Secret Service and the FBI announced that they were heightening vetting procedures for military members assigned to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. On Tuesday, the day before the ceremony, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, Daniel Hokanson, told reporters that 10 troops were pulled off the line of duty as a result of the vetting measures, which include background checks and anything that could come up in a civilian database.
Two of the guard members were removed for inappropriate comments or texts that were flagged internally and through an anonymous tip. They have since been sent home. Defense officials would not confirm whether the comments were related to Biden or Vice-president elect Kamala Harris, saying only that they were concerning and under investigation.
The FBI has been working to vet all of the 25,000 National Guard troops pouring into Washington, DC, for Biden's inauguration after mobs of pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol, resulting in five deaths. The number of National Guard troops participating in DC is reportedly at least twice that of previous inaugurations and reflects the amped-up security efforts following the Capitol attack and to ferret out any guard members who could pose an insider threat.
"If they are flagged we are not even asking what the flag is, we are just removing them," Jonathan Rath Hoffman, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs. "We are just taking action at this point."
The Associated Press first reported on the removals.
About a week and a half ago, the National Guard sent out an internal letter with tips on how to report insider threats. Two guard members in Washington, DC, who spoke on condition of anonymity said that while the reporting process was not new, the focus on domestic, internal threats was.
"We do annual training on insider threats ... but this is one of the first times that it’s been a legit and credible concern," one guard member said.
Two DC-based National Guard members told BuzzFeed News that before Jan. 6, they had never experienced the kind of vetting coordinated by the federal defense and intelligence agencies.
“In the Army in general, it was more of a 'we'll take your word for it’ type thing," one guard member said, adding that they believe the vetting system should have been instituted earlier given how Trump’s rhetoric has encouraged extremist and far-right militant organizations.
In June, during the Black Lives Matter protests, an Ohio National Guard member was removed from his DC mission guarding the city because officials found he had posted white supremacist content on social media before the assignment.
“I've been in [the Army] long enough to know that the military is riddled with racists,” the National Guard member said. “But not many are bold enough to actually claim they are part of an extremist organization. Trump's presidency brought out the worst in people, it seems, because the military is no place for those types of people.”
During their news conference on Tuesday, defense officials would not say whether they would permanently institute stricter screening measures for guard members.