Hundreds of National Guard troops will be deployed in Washington, D.C., to help police handle traffic in anticipation of possible protests as President Joe Biden prepares to give his State of the Union speech on March 1, federal officials said Tuesday.
The National Guard said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved the requests to help with traffic control during “First Amendment demonstrations” expected in the coming days.
Roughly 400 of the troops will be from Washington, and as many as 300 will come from outside the capital, the National Guard said in a statement.
The city's Metropolitan Police Department requested the assistance last week, the statement said. On Monday, the U.S. Capitol Police also asked for help.
The Washington troops will provide command and control support and other aid, including 50 large tactical vehicles. They will not be armed, nor will they help carry out surveillance or law enforcement, the statement said.
The troops from outside the city will be prepared to assist at Capitol entry points and traffic posts, the statement said.
“The people who live, work and visit the District are part of our community, and their safety is our first mission priority,” Maj. Gen. Sherrie L. McCandless, of Washington's National Guard, said in a statement.
The announcement comes after authorities in Canada cracked down on a weekslong "freedom convoy" protest in Ottawa against Covid-19 restrictions and the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
In the United States, a collection of pro-Trump groups, anti-vaccine supporters and QAnon believers have sought to organize similar events, including at the Super Bowl in Los Angeles this month. That effort failed, but authorities are preparing ahead of Biden's March 1 speech.
The U.S. Capitol Police said last week that it was working on a security plan with the Secret Service. Among the possible measures under consideration was considering was the reinstallation of a fence that had remained around the Capitol building for months after the Jan. 6 riot.
Separate truck convoys have been planned through online forums — all with different starting points, departure dates and routes. Some are scheduled to arrive in time for the State of the Union address, though others may to arrive afterward.
The deployments are scheduled to begin Saturday and can continue through Monday.