Washington, DC – The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is conducting heightened security checks into each of the 25,000-plus National Guard troops coming to the U.S. Capitol for the Presidential inauguration amid concerns about a potential threat or inside attack from service members.
A U.S. official said on Tuesday that 12 Army National Guard members who allegedly have ties to far-right groups or posted alleged extremist views online have already been removed from the inauguration security mission, the Military Times reported.
Ten of the service members were removed from the mission due to alleged questionable behavior uncovered during an extensive vetting process, Army General Daniel Hokanson told CNN.
The other two National Guard members were removed due to allegedly “inappropriate” texts and comments, Hokanson said.
There is no information to indicate that the National Guard members have done anything unethical or illegal.
“I’m not concerned as a large part of our organization, if you look at 25,000, we’ve had 12 identified and some of those they are just looking into,” the general told CNN. “It may be unrelated to this, but we want to make sure out of an abundance of caution as I stated earlier that we do the right thing until that gets cleared up.”
Pentagon spokesperson Jonathon Hoffman stressed that much of the information that resulted in the 12 National Guard members being removed from the inauguration mission was “unrelated to the events taking place at the Capitol” or to concerns about extremism,” CNN reported.
“These are vetting efforts that identify any questionable behavior in the past, or any potential link to questionable behavior, not just related to extremism,” Hoffman added.
No further details regarding which state units the members are affiliated with or the nature of their alleged right-wing ties have been released.
“We’re continually going through the process, and taking second, third looks at every one of the individuals assigned to this operation,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told the Associated Press on Sunday.
McCarthy said commanders have been warned to be on the lookout for any red flags with their troops as the Jan. 20 inauguration approaches.
Guard members have also been receiving additional training on how to identify potential threats from inside their ranks.
“If there’s any indication that any of our soldiers or airmen are expressing things that are extremist views, it’s either handed over to law enforcement or dealt with the chain of command immediately,” National Guard Bureau Chief General Daniel Hokanson told the Associated Press.
In addition to the measures the National Guard is already taking, the FBI is also cross-checking service members’ names against their own watchlists and databases, former Seattle FBI national security supervisor David Gomez told the Associated Press.
The heightened security measures arose after the Jan. 6 capitol riots, the Associated Press reported.
Some government officials are worried that those assigned to protect the U.S. Capitol could end up presenting a threat to President-elect Joe Biden and others who will be attending the event.
McCarthy said intelligence reports have indicated that groups have been planning armed rallies in conjunction with Inauguration Day, and that those gatherings could continue into subsequent days.
“We need to be conscious of it and we need to put all of the mechanisms in place to thoroughly vet these men and women who would support any operations like this,” McCarthy told the Associated Press.
The Pentagon said it has not seen any evidence of threats, NBC News reported.
McCarthy said that military service members from across the country traveled to the nation’s capital city for the Jan. 6 rally in support of President Donald Trump, but that only two current National Guard or active-duty members have been arrested for storming the Capitol building thus far, according to the Associated Press.
The Secret Service is heading up security for the inauguration with the assistance of a wide variety of law enforcement and military personnel.
The first National Guard troops arrived began deploying to Washington, DC from across the country over one week ago.
This year’s inauguration will have between two and three times the normal number of troops deployed to the city in comparison to past inaugurations, the Associated Press reported.
“This is a national priority. We have to be successful as an institution,” McCarthy said. “We want to send the message to everyone in the United States and for the rest of the world that we can do this safely and peacefully.”