WASHINGTON – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said that some soldiers deployed to Washington, D.C. to possibly assist in thwarting Black Lives Matter protests were issued bayonets, USA TODAY has confirmed.
Members of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg in North Carolina and the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as the “Old Guard”, based just outside the nation’s capital, were mobilized early last month in response to demonstrations over police brutality following the death of George Floyd.
On June 2, during their deployment, the service members were issued bayonets but were instructed to keep them in their “scabbards and not fixed to weapons,” Milley told two U.S. Congressmen in a letter.
The letter is dated June 26 and addressed to Democratic Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois and Rep. Ted Lieu of California, who had penned a letter to Milley on June 22, expressing concern that bayonets would escalate any potential violence at protests.
Milley said that the order to mobilize the service members came from Army Maj. Gen. Omar Jones, who serves as commander of the military district of Washington.
Members of neither the 82nd Airborne Division nor The Old Guard were never sent into the city to respond to protests. Members of the 82nd Airborne Division were sent back two days after their arrival.
Milley’s letter, dated June 26, was sent to Democratic Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois and Rep. Ted Lieu of California, who demanded an explanation after the Associated Press first reported on the use of bayonets on June 2.
The AP has also reported an unclassified military document detailing some of the soldiers were not trained in riot response, and commanders had planned to train them within 96 hours of arriving at the nation’s capital.
Milley stopped short of agreeing to bar bayonet usage moving forward, saying he could not commit that “U.S. troops will never deploy bayonets in support of civil authorities responding to domestic civil unrest.” Each circumstance would have to be dealt with individually and situationally, he concluded.
Krishnamoorthi and Lieu said in a statement, “While we are grateful for General Milley’s responses to our questions concerning the arming of troops with bayonets for potential deployment against protesters, we were disappointed he was not willing to commit to banning the practice.”
“We recognize the necessity of the Joint Force preserving flexibility to respond to varying circumstances, but it is difficult for us to imagine a circumstance which could necessitate or justify the deployment of bayonets against American civilians,” they continued.
Floyd, a black man, died in Minneapolis police custody in late May after a white officer pinned him to the ground by placing his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck. His death sparked demonstrations against police brutality and racial discrimination in D.C. and cities across the United States.
Contributing: Nicholas Wu, The Associated Press