The service members include at least two with possible sympathies for anti-government groups, said two U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. Another 10 were removed for other reasons that defense officials declined to detail, but said it does have to do with extremism.
"These are vetting efforts that identify any questionable behavior in the past, or any potential link to questionable behavior not related to extremism," said Jonathan Rath Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesman. He said that defense officials are not asking questions right now, and proactively removing people "out of an abundance of caution."
Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, declined to provide specifics about the two service members alleged to have expressed common cause with anti-government groups, but said they made "inappropriate comments." One of those individuals was flagged for concern within his unit, while the other was reported to authorities, defense officials said.
The 12 service members removed represent a fraction of 1 percent of the 25,000 members of the National Guard deployed in Washington for the inauguration following the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by a mob that sought to stop the certification of Biden as the next president. The group, supporting President Donald Trump, smashed its way into Congress in an attack that led to the death of five people, including a police officer.
Democratic lawmakers sought vetting of National Guard members deployed for the inauguration afterward, citing the arrest of numerous veterans in the mob. The names of guardsmen supporting the inauguration were then sent to the FBI for vetting.
Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, said that some of the guardsmen who have been flagged will be pulled "off the line" where guardsmen have formed a security perimeter around the Capitol, White House and other federal buildings. He said he is "not concerned" that a large part of the National Guard has security concerns, citing the small percentage who were removed after screening.
"Let me be clear: Extremism is not tolerated in any branch of the United States military," Hokanson said. "If there are reported issues, our leaders will address them immediately and in accordance with established department policies and in coordination with law enforcement."
The Pentagon on Tuesday referred questions about the guardsmen who have been removed to the Secret Service, which in turn said that any questions about National Guard personnel should be directed to the Defense Department.
"In order to maintain critical operational security surrounding the 59th Presidential Inauguration, the U.S. Secret Service and our law enforcement partners will not be commenting on the means and methods used to conduct the agency mission, inclusive of protective intelligence matters," the Secret Service said in a statement. "Any questions specific to National Guard Bureau personnel should be directed to the Defense Department and the National Guard Bureau."
The Associated Press first reported that some guardsmen would be removed from inauguration duty.
Not all of the Guardsmen being removed from inauguration duty necessarily have far-right militia ties; in some cases the military is removing individuals flagged by the FBI without knowing the reason they were flagged out of an abundance of caution, according to one official.
Guardsmen closer to the inner workings of the inauguration, like those overseeing access points, may receive higher levels of screening, said Michael Taheri, a retired Air Force major general and former director of staff for the National Guard Bureau.
Background checks for service members have broadened in recent years to include social media activity and more frequent monitoring, Taheri said, mirroring how private companies comb online behavior for prospective hires.
"My guess is there is a lot of open stuff out there," he said.
About 25,000 guardsmen are expected to serve in the inauguration, following the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by a mob that sought to stop the certification of Biden as the victor in the election over Trump. Democratic lawmakers have sought the vetting as a precaution following the arrest of several veterans and at least two current service members in the group.
Among the service members arrested are a current Virginia National Guard member who previously served in the Marine Corps and an Army reservist, according to court documents and defense officials.
Published : January 20, 2021
By : The Washington Post · Dan Lamothe, Paul Sonne, Alex Horton