DeWine Mobilizes National Guard to Statehouse, D.C. for Expected Protests

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With reports of armed protests planned for this weekend and into the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, Gov. Mike DeWine has authorized the Ohio State National Guard to back up state and national law enforcement.

During a special virtual press conference Thursday morning, DeWine signed a proclamation officially mobilizing 500 additional members of the Ohio National Guard to Washington D.C. and surrounding areas per the request of the federal government, bringing total commitment from the state to the nation’s capital to about 700.

“We are of course part of a national effort and our guard always is part of that national force,” DeWine said. “We have unique capabilities, we have special personnel and special equipment that has been specifically requested by the federal government for us to deploy to Washington. We have responded and done so.”

The National Guard members heading to D.C. comprise two companies with specific capabilities, said Maj. Gen. John Harris Jr., Ohio’s adjutant general and commander of the Ohio National Guard. Those forces will augment local law enforcement in D.C. and provide communication redundancy if necessary.

Members of the state’s Homeland Response Force will also be dispatched to provide security and consequence management, Harris said.

“So if there were a major event there, this unit can do very high-level, high-skilled search and rescue, both from confined space; high-angle search and rescue,” he said, “but also they could do it in a chemical, biological, nuclear environment.”

In addition, National Guard members and the Ohio State Highway Patrol will both “have a significant presence” in Columbus and at the statehouse, and “both will be available for any place else where trouble might arise” in the state, DeWine said.

Under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, “we must always and will always respect the rights of the peaceful protester,” DeWine said. However, “all Americans were horrified” by the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, as Trump supporters who were part of a protest there broke into the Capitol building. Those individuals sought to turn a peaceful protest into an opportunity for violence, the governor said.

“These are violent people and their violence will not be tolerated in Ohio. It will not be tolerated anywhere,” he said.

The National Guard is conducting risk management to ensure that local law enforcement agencies in Columbus and throughout the state have what they need, Harris said. Members stand equipped and ready to assist with security infrastructure, traffic control and vehicle checkpoints and, if necessary, crowd control.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, a Democrat, joined DeWine on the call, and said he and the governor “stand together” in guarding against such violence in the state of Ohio. The events last Wednesday was a “vile demonstration of the worse elements of our society,” and cannot be ignored, he said.

The FBI has warned that it is monitoring planned pro-Trump protests and demonstrations in all 50 states, primarily in capital cities, between now and the inauguration.

“In the coming days, we will not allow hate, violence and destruction to be part of our city,” Ginther said. “Our Constitution gives everyone the right to protest peacefully. It does not give anyone the right to incite violence, harm, or intimidate others or destroy property.”

During the weekend, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day Jan. 18 and on inauguration day Jan. 20, Ginther advised residents to not give hate groups an opportunity for confrontation. He cautioned residents to avoid the downtown area, leave certain areas if they don’t feel safe and to seek help if they see something suspicious.

Additionally, state office buildings in downtown Columbus will be closed Sunday through Wednesday, DeWine noted. Employees will be working from home or at other sites.

“It’s time for us to observe the peaceful transfer of power and to remind ourselves of what brings us together, binds us as Americans,” DeWine said. “Our love for freedom, our love for liberty and our love for the Constitution.”

When asked by members of the press if the National Guard is authorized to use deadly force, Maj. Gen. Harris said it always ensures it solders, first responders and law enforcement partners can defend themselves, “but [deadly force] of course is a last resort.”

National Guard members are trained in and rehearse decision-making scenarios to learn how and when to employ the minimum force necessary in any situation, he said. They are also given necessary tools, such as chemical irritants, so they don’t have to employ deadly force if and when protests turn violent.

Under Ohio law, chemical agents cannot be used on peaceful protesters, Mayor Ginther added. However, once a protest turns violent and property is being destroyed, or when the lives of protesters and officers are put at risk, chemical agents can be used to “disperse and control violent protests,” he said.

Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan said the use of chemical agents is based on actions that are clearly defined under Ohio law. All law enforcement and Ohio National Guard members in Columbus will be working under a unified command to ensure control over who is deploying what chemical agent and when.

When asked about the possibility of armed protesters, Gov. DeWine stated Ohio law provides for open carry of firearms, including on the outside grounds of the statehouse, as well as concealed carry for those who have a permit.

Pictured: Gov. Mike DeWine signs proclamation mobilizing 500 additional Ohio National Guard members to Washington D.C.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.