Sending in the Guard: 8 Examples From U.S. History

Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri on Monday ordered the National Guard to help establish peace on the streets of Ferguson. It’s a rare step, but governors and sometimes the president order Guard troops in to bring protests and riots under control.

Personnel from the Missouri National Guard arrive at the Missouri Highway Patrol command center on Monday in Ferguson, Missouri. Gov. Jay Nixon ordered the National Guard to provide additional security after a week of clashes between police and protesters over the police shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Nixon ordered the Highway Patrol to take over security after local police were criticized for a heavy-handed approach to the protesters.

Michael B. Thomas / AFP

A member of the National Guard patrols the streets of downtown Seattle on Dec. 3, 1999, near a street marker spray-painted with the anarchist “A” after three days of demonstrations against the World Trade Organization. Thousands of protesters took control of downtown streets during the WTO meeting. They threw rocks and bottles at police, who fired tear gas, rubber bullets and concussion grenades. Washington Gov. Gary Locke activated 200 National Guard troops to help put down the protest.

Mike Nelson / AFP

National Guardsmen watch a business go up in flames in South Los Angeles on April 30 1992. Riots consumed South Central Los Angeles after four police officers were acquitted of assault in the videotaped beating of Rodney King. President George H.W. Bush, invoking the Insurrection Act, activated more than 11,000 California National Guard troops. Fifty-three people died in the riots.

Hal Garb / AFP

Mary Ann Vecchio screams as she kneels over the body of fellow student Jeffrey Miller during an anti-war demonstration at Kent State University in Ohio on May 4, 1970. National Guard troops shot and killed four students from Kent State University in Ohio who were protesting the U.S. bombing of Cambodia and increasing American casualties during the Vietnam War. The governors of at least a dozen states called in the National Guard to protect college campuses.

John Filo / Premium Archive

California National Guardsmen, bayonets at the ready, block the street during protests near what became known as People’s Park on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley in 1969. Students at the campus transformed a university-owned plot of land into People’s Park. When the school fenced in the land, students rallied, and it turned into a riot. More than a dozen people were hurt, and an onlooker was killed by police gunfire. Reagan sent in 2,200 National Guard troops.

Garth Eliassen / Archive Photos

National Guardsmen seal off a business-residential section of Baltimore and prepare to use tear gas against looters on April 8, 1968, four days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The store at right was looted. President Lyndon Johnson and governors activated National Guard forces suppress riots after King was slain. Riots broke out in at least 14 cities, and at least 50,000 National Guardsmen and 22,000 Army troops were called up to help local police, the largest federal call-up in U.S. history to deal with a domestic civil disturbance.

An armed National Guardsman holds his bayonet at the ready as he patrols against a backdrop of buildings that burn in the wake of riots in Detroit in 1967. A police raid on an unlicensed bar spiraled into one of the deadliest riots in American history. President Lyndon Johnson and Gov. George Romney ordered the National Guard into Detroit. At one time, 12 square miles of the city were on fire, and the Guard was briefly federalized and under the command of the Army. Forty-three people were killed, and it took 8,500 Guardsmen to put down the uprising.

Declan Haun / The LIFE Premium Collection

Teenager Elizabeth Eckford is followed by snarling white parents as she is turned away from entering Central High School by Arkansas National Guardsmen in 1957. Gov. Orval Faubus of Arkansas ordered the National Guard to surround Central High School in Little Rock to stop nine students from integrating the school. President Dwight Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne to guard the safety of the students and uphold the Supreme Court’s desegregation order.

Francis Miller / LIFE

An unidentified sit-down striker reaches over a fence to receive a pan of food from a friend during a strike of auto workers in Flint, Michigan, in 1937. Guarding the proceedings at Gate 4 of the Chevrolet plant are members of the National Guard. In a 44-day strike, workers locked themselves inside the plant to demand the right to form a union and bargain for better pay and benefits. Gov. Frank Murphy ordered the National Guard in when violence erupted between protesters on the streets and police. The strike ended when GM recognized the United Auto Workers.