National Guard helps DC control truck convoy traffic | National Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon has approved the deployment of 700 unarmed National Guard troops to the nation’s capital as it prepares for trucking convoys that plan protests against pandemic restrictions starting next week.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday approved the request from the District of Columbia government and the United States Capitol Police, the Pentagon said in a statement late Tuesday.

The troops would be used to help with traffic control during protests expected in the city in the coming days, the Pentagon said. Four hundred Guard members from the District of Columbia Guard will be joined by 300 Guard members from other states, according to the statement.

Guard members will not carry firearms or engage in law enforcement or domestic surveillance activities, the Pentagon said.

Modeled on recent trucker protests in Canada, separate truck convoys have been planned via online forums with names such as People‘s Convoy and American Truckers Freedom Fund – all with starting points, departure dates and different routes. Some are expected to arrive in time for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1, although others may arrive later.

The convoys follow the recent demonstration by Canadian truckers that closed the busiest US border crossing and besieged the streets of the capital, Ottawa, for weeks to protest against government pandemic restrictions. The multiple blockades were broken by police last week, with more than 100 arrests.

It remains to be seen whether any of the American convoys would actively seek to close the streets of Washington, as their Canadian counterparts did in Ottawa. Some convoy organizers have spoken of plans to briefly cross the city and then focus on closing the ring road, which encircles the capital.

A statement from the People’s Convoy specifically states that the trucks “will NOT be going to DC proper.” This convoy plans to embark Wednesday from Southern California and arrive in DC around March 5.

US convoys are seeking to immediately lift what they say are tough government pandemic restrictions, such as mask mandates and vaccine requirements. The American Truckers Freedom Fund website says the group is protesting “the unscientific and unconstitutional excess of the federal government.”

Vaccines have proven to be very effective in preventing COVID-19 infections, especially serious illness and death, and high-quality masks offer strong protection against spreading or contracting the disease. Public opinion, particularly among conservatives, has shifted against government mandates as the pandemic enters its third year.

Popular convoy organizer Mike Landis, in video testimony on the group’s website, said the current COVID vaccine “is not yet proven” but supported individual choice whether or not to take it. Landis said the convoy was open to all vehicles and said the main purpose was to pressure Biden to lift the national state of emergency.

“We want this government to bring back the Constitution,” Landis said. “We don’t want to be under a communist dictatorship type regime, like where we are right now.”

A state of emergency in the United States was declared by President Donald Trump in March 2020. Last week, Biden announced plans to extend it beyond the current March 1 expiration date.

The websites organizing convoys of American truckers make direct reference to the inspiration of the Canadian movement. A statement on the People’s Convoy website pays tribute to “our brave and courageous neighbors to the north, our Canadian brothers and sisters who led the charge.”

Metropolitan Police Department chief Robert Contee said on Friday his department was closely monitoring changing information and would be putting in extra hours to police on a heightened state of alert over the coming weeks. In the meantime, he warned DC residents to stay alert for unexpected traffic grunts.

“There will be traffic disruptions, that sort of thing,” Contee said. “I think we have to be very upfront with the public about some of the expectations, based on what we’ve seen in Ottawa, that we might see here in the district.

Contee called Ottawa’s standoff “an unbelievable situation – something we’ve never seen here in the District of Columbia.”

Contee and Mayor Muriel Bowser memorably predicted unrest days before the Jan. 6, 2021, uprising at the Capitol. They warned residents to stay indoors and called for additional resources, but Capitol police and National Guardsmen were still caught off guard when mobs of Trump supporters swarmed the building, leaving several dead and more. many injured.

Lingering memories of this debacle fueled heightened feelings of anxiety and speculation about upcoming convoys. But Bowser said she is not yet warning residents to avoid the Capitol District or the National Mall.

“We are not yet at the point of giving precise instructions to the inhabitants. We will,” Bowser said.

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