Biden Admin Glenn Greenwald

Reflecting the Authoritarian Climate, Washington Will Remain Militarized

The idea of troops in U.S. streets for an extended period of time—an extreme measure even when temporary—has now become close to a sacred consensus.
Heavily armed troops are expected to remain in the nation’s capital until at least mid-March. [Screen shot / YouTube]

By Glenn Greenwald / Substack

Washington, DC has been continuously militarized beginning the week leading up to Joe Biden’s inauguration, when 20,000 National Guard troops were deployed onto the streets of the nation’s capital. The original justification was that this show of massive force was necessary to secure the inauguration in light of the January 6 riot at the Capitol.

But with the inauguration over and done, those troops remain and are not going anywhere any time soon. Working with federal law enforcement agencies, the National Guard Bureau announced on Monday that between 5,000 and 7,000 troops will remain in Washington until at least mid-March.

The rationale for this extraordinary, sustained domestic military presence has shifted several times, typically from anonymous U.S. law enforcement officials. The original justification — the need to secure the inaugural festivities — is obviously no longer operative.

So the new claim became that the impeachment trial of former President Trump that will take place in the Senate in February necessitated military reinforcements. On Sunday, Politico quoted “four people familiar with the matter” to claim that “Trump’s upcoming Senate impeachment trial poses a security concern that federal law enforcement officials told lawmakers last week requires as many as 5,000 National Guard troops to remain in Washington through mid-March.”

The next day, APciting “a U.S. official,” said the ongoing troop deployment was needed due to “ominous chatter about killing legislators or attacking them outside of the U.S. Capitol.” But the anonymous official acknowledged that “the threats that law enforcement agents are tracking vary in specificity and credibility.” Even National Guard troops complained that they “have so far been given no official justifications, threat reports or any explanation for the extended mission — nor have they seen any violence thus far.”

It is hard to overstate what an extreme state of affairs it is to have a sustained military presence in American streets. Prior deployments have been rare, and usually were approved for a limited period and/or in order to quell a very specific, ongoing uprising — to ensure the peaceful segregation of public schools in the South, to respond to the unrest in Detroit and Chicago in the 1960s, or to quell the 1991 Los Angeles riots that erupted after the Rodney King trial.

Deploying National Guard or military troops for domestic law enforcement purposes is so dangerous that laws in place from the country’s founding strictly limit its use. It is meant only as a last resort, when concrete, specific threats are so overwhelming that they cannot be quelled by regular law enforcement absent military reinforcements. Deploying active military troops is an even graver step than putting National Guard soldiers on the streets, but they both present dangers. As Trump’s Defense Secretary said in response to calls from some over the summer to deploy troops in response to the Black Lives Matter and Antifa protests: “The option to use active duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire of situations.” 

Are we even remotely at such an extreme state where ordinary law enforcement is insufficient? The January 6 riot at the Capitol would have been easily repelled with just a couple hundred more police officers. The U.S. is the most militarized country in the world, and has the most para-militarized police force on the planet. Earlier today, the Acting Chief of the Capitol Police acknowledged that they had advanced knowledge of what was planned but failed to take necessary steps to police it.

Future violent acts in the name of right-wing extremism, as well as other causes, is highly likely if not inevitable. But the idea that the country faces some sort of existential armed insurrection that only the military can suppress is laughable on its face.

Recall that ABC News, on January 11, citing “an internal FBI bulletin obtained by ABC News,” claimed that “starting this week and running through at least Inauguration Day, armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols and at the U.S. Capitol.” The news outlet added in highly dramatic and alarming tones:

The FBI has also received information in recent days on a group calling for “storming” state, local and federal government courthouses and administrative buildings in the event President Donald Trump is removed from office prior to Inauguration Day. The group is also planning to “storm” government offices in every state the day President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated, regardless of whether the states certified electoral votes for Biden or Trump.

None of that happened. There was virtually no unrest or violence during inauguration week — except for some anti-Biden protests held by leftist and anarchist protesters that resulted in a few smashed windows at the Oregon Democratic Party and some vandalism at a Starbucks in Seattle. “Trump supporters threatened state Capitols but failed to show on Inauguration Day,” was the headline NBC News chose to try to justify this gap between media claims and reality.

This threat seems wildly overblown by the combination of media outlets looking for ratings, law enforcement agencies searching for power, and Democratic Party operatives eager to exploit the climate of fear for a new War on Terror.

But now is not a moment when there is much space for questioning anything, especially not measures ostensibly undertaken in the name of combatting white-supremacist right-wing extremism — just as no questioning of supposed security measures was tolerated in the wake of the 9/11 attack. And so the scenes of soldiers on the streets of the nation’s capital, there in the thousands and for an indefinite period of time, is provoking little to no concern.

What makes this all the more remarkable is that a mere seven months ago, a major controversy erupted when The New York Times published an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) which, at its core, advocated the deployment of military troops to quell the social unrest, protests and riots that erupted over the summer after the killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd. To justify the deployment of National Guard and active duty military forces, Cotton emphasized how many people, including police officers, had been seriously maimed or even killed as part of that unrest:

Outnumbered police officers, encumbered by feckless politicians, bore the brunt of the violence. In New York State, rioters ran over officers with cars on at least three occasions. In Las Vegas, an officer is in “grave” condition after being shot in the head by a rioter. In St. Louis, four police officers were shot as they attempted to disperse a mob throwing bricks and dumping gasoline; in a separate incident, a 77-year-old retired police captain was shot to death as he tried to stop looters from ransacking a pawnshop. This is “somebody’s granddaddy,” a bystander screamed at the scene.

(Cotton’s claim that police officers “bore the brunt of the violence” was questionable, given how many protesters were also killed or maimed, but it is true that numerous police officers were attacked, including fatally).

Cotton acknowledged that the central cause of the protests was a just one, noting they were provoked by “the wrongful death of George Floyd.” He also strongly affirmed the right of people to peacefully protest in support of that cause, accusing those justifying the violence of “a revolting moral equivalence of rioters and looters to peaceful, law-abiding protesters,” adding: “A majority who seek to protest peacefully shouldn’t be confused with bands of miscreants.”

But he insisted that, absent military reinforcements, innocent people, principally ones in poor communities, will suffer. “These rioters, if not subdued, not only will destroy the livelihoods of law-abiding citizens but will also take more innocent lives,” Cotton wrote, adding: “Many poor communities that still bear scars from past upheavals will be set back still further.”

The backlash to the publication of this op-ed was immediate, intense, and, at least in my memory, unprecedented. Very few people were interested in engaging the merits of Cotton’s call for a deployment of troops in order to prove the argument was misguided.

Their view was not that Cotton’s plea for soldiers in the streets was misguided, but that advocacy for it was so obscene, so extremist, so dangerous and repugnant, that the mere publication of the op-ed by The Paper of Record was an act of grave immorality.

“I’ll probably get in trouble for this, but to not say something would be immoral. As a black woman, as a journalist, I am deeply ashamed that we ran this,” pronounced the paper’s Nikole Hannah-Jones in a now-deleted tweet. The New York Times Magazine writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner posted a multi-tweet denunciation that compared Cotton to an anti-Semite who “says, ‘The Jew is a pig,’” argued that “hatred dressed up as opinion is not something I have to withstand,” and concluded with this flourish: “I love working at the Times and most days of the week I’m very proud to be part of its mission. But tonight, I understand the people who treat me like I work at a tobacco company.”

Former NYT editor and Huffington Post editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen announced, also in a now-deleted tweet: “I spent some of the happiest and most productive years of my life working for the New York Times. So it is with love and sadness that I say: running this puts Black @nytimes staff – and many, many others – in danger.” That publication of the Cotton op-ed “puts Black New York Times staff in danger” became a mantra recited by more journalists than one can list.

Two editors — including the paper’s Editorial Page editor James Benett and a young assistant editor Adam Rubenstein — were forced out of their jobs, in the middle of a pandemic, for the crime not of endorsing Cotton’s argument but merely airing it. Media reports attributed their departure to a “staff revolt.” The paper itself appended a major editor’s note: “We have concluded that the essay fell short of our standards and should not have been published.” In addition to alleged flaws in the editorial process, the paper also said “the tone of the essay in places is needlessly harsh and falls short of the thoughtful approach that advances useful debate.”

There is a meaningful difference between deploying National Guard troops and active duty soldiers on American streets. But both measures are extraordinary, create a climate of militarization, have a history of resulting in excessive force against citizens engaged in peaceful protest and constitutionally protected dissent, and present threats and dangers to civil liberties far beyond ordinary use of law enforcement.

Why was the idea of troops in American streets so grotesque and offensive in June, 2020 but so normalized now? Why were these troops likely to indiscriminately arrest and murder black reporters and other journalists over the summer but are now trusted to protect them? And what does it say about the current climate, and the serious dangers it poses, that the public is being trained so easily to acquiesce to extreme measures in the name of domestic security?

We are witnessing the media and their public treat what ought to be regarded with great suspicion as not only normal but desirable, all through the manipulation of fears and inflation of threats. That does not bode well for those who seek to impede the imminent attempt to begin a new domestic War on Terror.


    1. Interesting story, thanks. I retweeted it.

      Here is key fact:

      “Donald Trump’s recent moves have seemingly turned back the clock — to 1952. Recent Chinese immigrants to the U.S. have been subject to increasingly stringent scrutiny amid fraught relations between the U.S. and China. In October, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a policy alert that cited content from the 1952 bill: “Unless otherwise exempt, any immigrant who is or has been a member of or affiliated with the Communist or any other totalitarian party, domestic or foreign, is inadmissible to the United States.””

      Biden will perhaps roll this back along with many of the other Stephen Miller-developed executive branch immigrant-bashing policies…

      1. When I was still working in science in the early 1990s, I was talking to a bunch of Chinese friends who were grad students or postdocs. I asked if any were members of the Chinese Communist Party. They all were. They all had lied to get their VISA, saying “they would not let me in if I told the truth!” They said all the best, top students were almost always members of the CCP. If you were not, you were unlikely to get the chance to go abroad; being a CCP member means you have made the first “cut” of acceptable citizen with leadership potential. But one told me “all I ever did as a Communist was lead jumping jacks exercise every morning!” Most stayed and became America citizens. Several students went back to visit, and had no issue with the politics. Rather they were aghast at the hygiene there back then: “I could not live there”. (However, several sent their kids to grandparents in China for five years thinking American children were spoiled and disrespectful.)

  1. It’s a little convenient to appear the need for police state protection. This is extremely disturbing.

  2. Apparently there is no distinction between Amerikan foreign policy and domestic. Just send in the troops to restore democracy.

  3. I just read the lead headline of my news feed that “The US Dept. of Homeland Security has declared a nationwide terrorism alert.” Over what? you may ask… And the answer? The always dreaded “POTENTIAL THREAT.” Of course we realize fact-free, conspiracy charged gun-toting fascists, racists, and assorted permutations thereof are dangerous. But this sure seems like the fear mongering warned about above. How long do we have until the haunting visage of that amorphous specter known as The War on Terror (LLC) appears in a domestic form?

    The 20% upper middle class administrators, educated elite, and professionals the Dem party actually represents aren’t too fond of peasant uprisings, either. Never forget the centrist neolib Ds did for the Rust Belt exactly what they did to the Wall St. exploiters who caused the ’08 crash–NOTHING! The same who, when they usurped the D party in the ’80s, dumped trad Dem New Deal ideals and abandoned labor. But of course wide-spread discontent over working class incomes falling for 4 decades is irrelevant; it must all be the fault of rabid right wingers.

  4. A classic case of our chickens coming hometo roost. What we’ve allowed to be done to others is now being done to us. Between the surveillance state and militarization of our police you would think they have plenty of tools at their. disposal, but never waste s good crisis to add a few more turns of the screw!

    I agree with Mr Greenwald, the mainstream media appears to be an integral part of the propoganda machine. We need more people like Glenn questioning the “official” narative. The intercept is not the same withouthim.

    Quite honestly I have given up any hope of meaningful dialogue with neo libs. I believe there is more chance of alliances with some

  5. Now, perhaps the American people can see and experience a taste of life in Iraq and the occupied Palestinian Territories.

  6. America home of the brave, more like home of the afraid! Never has any country in history been founded on the principal of fear more than America in its constant need to create enemies real or imagined. First it was the native peoples, then it was the communists, then it was Muslims, now it is our very own home grown insurrectionists and white supremacists. Now sadly America looks like just another sad banana republic with troops in the streets, its very own occupying army. Remarkable, how the violence we perpetrate abroad with our endless wars now returns in spades to our own shores. As number 45 once said, “Talk about your shit hole countries! Forgive me editor for being so glib.

  7. I’m sure Greenwald would love to make it easier for his fascist MAGA buddies to kill members of congress. He has done so much to endear himself to them, he might even be offered a position in their new reich.

    Can’t wait for his articles on how the media is ignoring election fraud and how there actually is a mountain of evidence supporting the idea that Dems really do drink the blood of children.

    1. You launch an ad hominem attack without addressing anything Greenwald wrote. Thanks for your opinion.

    2. I thought Greenwald was a Libertarian. How would a Libertarian be in league with Fascists? This statement makes no sense other than as hyperbole.

  8. What Neo Progressive demagogues and propaganda buffs like Greenwald refuse to acknowledge is the traumatic impact of Trump-inspired Capitol riots. The 81 millions of Americans who voted for Biden, and the majority of the 73 millions who voted for Trump do, and would accept, even demand that steps are taken to avoid such events from repeating.

    I wonder if, once the troops leave Washington, Greenwald would have the humility to publish an apology for the conspiratorial nonsense above, but I wouldn’t hold my breath…

    1. You keep using this term Neo Progressive, but I think you may have invented it? If so, can you define it a bit? And/or explain how it fits with Greenwald and his writing?

      I find we are often using terms — liberal, progressive, radical, revolutionary — without agreement on what they mean.

      1. The short of it is this:
        There is a need, dire in my view, to distinguish between progressive pundits and narratives that accept the necessity to work within existing political reality, and those that view that entire reality as the greatest hindrance to political progress, and has defined their mission to devote as much time and media space to that goal – the end of liberal democracy. What’s worse, they view that goal as a sacrosanct end that justify any means, including the ‘bending’ of reality itself in its support.

        I might have coined the term ‘Neo Progressive’, but I did not invent the dangerous phenomena it represents and depicts.

        If you doubt the dangers I speak of, consider your own commentary, in the past two weeks or so, trying to counter one of the constant commentators here who claimed that Obama was the worse president in US history. That level of historical revisionism and/or deep ignorance, while natural and pervasive in right-wing propaganda media outlets, should alarm anyone who consider themselves progressives. Moreover, it is almost entirely perpetrated by authors like Greenwald and others. Consider, for example, Taibbi article about Neo liberalism, published here a while back. In his article he gives a list of (supposed) Neo liberals, all Democrats. Given the fact that the worse ‘Neo Liberal’ atrocities were committed by Republicans, and conservatives in general (not to mention the fact that without Thatcher and Reagan it is unlikely we would have that problem in the first place), Taibbi’s failure to even mention them, given the fact that he is one of the more well informed journalists out there, can only be interpreted as willful attempt to re-write history in a way that jives with his political intentions and agenda. The very fact that ‘journalists’ like Greenwald, Taibbi, Hedges, and almost all who publish in the left’s alternative media allow their political agenda to guide their authorship is perhaps the greatest threat to freedom of the press in itself, and a major contributor to the ‘fake news’ pandemic reverberating throughout the media world.

        The threat of the deterioration of public discourse is real and acute, and it is necessary for the left to acknowledge its part in it and, more importantly, change.

  9. Ho-hum! Many journalists seemed tempted to morph into lazy media critics, and at a time when there are so many scoops to be had. Everyone coming to this site reads or skims the NYTimes while understanding the underbelly of corporate media. I’m too lazy to keep tabs, but I’d bet more than half the “reporting” is now about reporting. To decry the “censorship” of Parler without mentioning the Mercers made me laugh.

  10. Re “the wrongful death of George Floyd” . . . When facts matter.

    Hysteria prevails.
    According to the Pathology Report, Floyd Perry died of a Fentanyl overdose while maintaining clear airways.
    Floyd Perry – one of George Floyd’s aliases.
    The New York Times and it’s sycophantic, hysterical staff are the new Pravda.

    None reporting of Floyd Perry’s “accidental” death could possibly have read the Pathology Report or the biochemistry concerning how those Fentanyl overdosed die.
    They can breath all right.
    Fentanyl inhibits oxygen exchange and the overdose victim responds with “I can’t breath”.
    Shortly thereafter they die, absent emergency ward care.
    Shortly before they die, they can become quite distressed and violent.
    If you hit them with the antidote, they go into immediate Fentanyl withdrawal.
    Not over a week but a few minutes. Instant withdrawal is very distressing.
    The antidote wears off and they’re back in a Fentanyl overdose stage.
    Repeat that cycle.

    Now you know. You can’t say you don’t.

    Clearly there is more going on here.

    1. There are competing autopsies and you are also willfully misrepresenting the reports, and making the assumption that he was actually dying already before he was restrained with a boot on his neck.

      Andrew Baker, the chief medical examiner in Hennepin County, who performed the first autopsy, did note the fentanyl and meth, but he did NOT say that Floyd died of a drug overdose. He said he had a “fatal level of fentanyl under normal circumstances” and that “if he were found dead at home alone and no other apparent causes, this could be acceptable to call an OD.”

      But, said Baker: “I am not saying this killed him.”

      INSTEAD, the medical examiner’s office ruled that the manner of Floyd’s death was homicide: “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression” and “experienced a cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained” by law enforcement officers. Floyd’s heart stopped as Chauvin restrained him.

      A second autopsy, done at the request of the family, also labeled it homicide, but concluded that it was asphyxia not cardiopulmonary arrest which killed him.

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