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Airmen with the District of Columbia National Guard occupy positions on the street near the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 13, 2021. As many as 700 National Guard troops have been activated to assist Washington law enforcement with traffic control through March 7 as several planned trucker protests make their way to the U.S. capital in the coming weeks, according to the Pentagon.

Airmen with the District of Columbia National Guard occupy positions on the street near the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 13, 2021. As many as 700 National Guard troops have been activated to assist Washington law enforcement with traffic control through March 7 as several planned trucker protests make their way to the U.S. capital in the coming weeks, according to the Pentagon. (Andrew Enriquez/U.S. Army National Guard )

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WASHINGTON — As many as 700 National Guard troops have been activated to assist Washington law enforcement with traffic control through March 7 as several planned trucker protests make their way to the U.S. capital in the coming weeks, according to the Pentagon.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved the requests by the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Capitol Police, chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday.

Of the 700 troops, 400 will come from the District of Columbia National Guard and up to 300 will come from neighboring states, Kirby said in a statement. It represents the first time that D.C. National Guard troops are being deployed under a new expedited activation process that Congress established last year after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol.

The D.C. National Guard troops will help city police officers “at traffic posts as soon as operationally and logistically feasible through March 7,” Kirby said. Guard troops from neighboring states will help Capitol Police officers with traffic control at designated points around the Capitol’s perimeter as soon as possible.

Multiple truck convoys are leaving for Washington this week to disrupt traffic in protest of coronavirus-related government mandates such as mask wearing and vaccines, according to convoy organizers.

The first convoy left Scranton, Pa., on Wednesday and intends to circle Washington in Maryland and Virginia along I-495, known as the Capital Beltway, according to a statement by its organizers Bob Bolus Towers and Truckers for America. They intend to disrupt traffic flow to and from the city.

Another group, dubbed The People’s Convoy, is scheduled to leave California on Wednesday and arrive in the beltway area March 5 to disrupt traffic in a similar way, according to a statement from the group.

The Guard troops will operate under Title 32 duty status, meaning they will be under state authority not federal. They will not be issued firearms for their duties, nor will they conduct surveillance of people, “although they are authorized to report any observed criminal activity to appropriate law enforcement personnel,” according to the Pentagon.

“Although participating service members will conduct traffic control, they will not affect arrests or conduct other such law enforcement activities,” the Pentagon said. “The Metropolitan Police Department and the USCP are responsible for conducting searches, seizures and arrests within their respective jurisdictions.”

The Capitol Police said Friday in a statement that they will help “facilitate lawful First Amendment activity” for the protest.

“Law enforcement agencies across the national capital region are aware of plans for a series of truck convoys arriving in Washington, D.C., around the time of the State of the Union,” the police agency said. “The USCP is closely coordinating with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department, the United States Park Police, the United States Secret Service and other allied agencies to include the D.C. National Guard.”

The protests follow similar trucker protests in Ottawa, Canada, where truckers shut down traffic flow around the country’s parliament buildings. That protest ended Saturday after police were sent in to clear the area, according to The Associated Press. Police arrested 170 people.

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Caitlin Doornbos covers the Pentagon for Stars and Stripes after covering the Navy’s 7th Fleet as Stripes’ Indo-Pacific correspondent at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Previously, she worked as a crime reporter in Lawrence, Kan., and Orlando, Fla., where she was part of the Orlando Sentinel team that placed as finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Caitlin has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Kansas and master’s degree in defense and strategic studies from the University of Texas at El Paso.
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