A total of 12 National Guardsmen have been removed from providing security for Wednesday’s inauguration, including two Guardsmen for sending “inappropriate” texts, defense officials said.
James LaPorta of the Associated Press was the first to reveal on Tuesday that background checks had found that two Guardsmen were linked to the fringe groups, citing an unnamed Army official and senior intelligence official. The names of the militia groups have not been publicly released at this time, and investigators did not discover any evidence of a plot to harm President-elect Joe Biden.
The National Guard Bureau referred questions about the two Guardsmen to the Secret Service, which declined to provide any information about the matter.
Video: D.C. National Guard mobilized for crowd control
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman repeatedly declined to describe what type of texts the two Guardsmen sent.
“We’re not going to get into the specifics of what the comments were right now,” Hoffman told reporters on Tuesday during a Pentagon news briefing. “They’ll be time for that.”
Roughly 25,000 National Guardsmen have been mobilized to protect Wednesday’s inauguration in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill insurrection that left five people dead, including two Air Force veterans.
The Army is working with the Secret Service to provide extra screening for Guardsmen tasked with securing the inauguration.
Separately, the FBI is concerned that QAnon extremists could attempt to penetrate the inauguration by posing as National Guardsmen, the Washington Post has reported.
Hoffman refused to say whether the two Guardsmen’s texts threatened violence against Biden.
“There’s going to be a continued look at this,” Hoffman said. “Whether that is an internal DoD look within the chain of command or an investigation by others is something that’s being determined. I don’t want to get ahead of that investigation.”
“We’re providing information here for the American public,” he continued. “What’s important for them to know is that those individuals have been removed; they will not be at the capital; and if we uncover anyone else sending inappropriate messages or has flags that have been identified by our law enforcement partners, they will be removed as well.”
Both Guardsmen had been serving in Washington, D.C., but they have since been sent home, said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief, National Guard Bureau. One Guardsman was identified by the chain of command and the other was removed following an anonymous tip.
Hokanson did not provide specific reasons why the other 10 National Guardsmen had been pulled from inaugural duty.
“There’s 10 that were identified by the FBI and I can’t speak to the level of vetting that they do but I know they said it’s a standard they do for all the inaugurations, for participants,” Hokanson said.
Those 10 service members were flagged for a number of different reasons” that came up in the vetting, which includes a criminal background check and a search of civilian databases, Hoffman continued.
The Defense Department will determine later whether any service members removed from inaugural duties need to be referred to law enforcement or their chain of command for further action, said Hoffman, who added: “We’re not taking any chances.”
“If our law enforcement partners flag an individual based on their determination that they see something and they pass it to us, we’re not even asking what the flag was; we’re just removing them,” Hoffman said.
UPDATE: This story was extensively updated on Jan. 19 with comments from Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman and Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the National Guard Bureau chief.