On January 21 2021 — just one day after the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden — news broke that National Guard soldiers deployed to Washington, D.C. for the event had been relegated to a parking garage with insufficient restroom facilities:
The article was behind a paywall, but in an archived version, Alex Horton reported for the Washington Post:
Hundreds of National Guard members were forced out of a U.S. Capitol cafeteria and into a parking garage nearby, putting them in close quarters with moving cars, exhaust fumes and troops potentially infected with the coronavirus, two soldiers told The Washington Post.
The abrupt transfer came Thursday afternoon [January 21 2021] with no explanation, the soldiers said. The cafeteria was used as a place for soldiers to rest in between guard shifts, grab a meal or conduct work such as monitoring radio traffic … Both soldiers, noncommissioned officers in the Maryland National Guard, estimated that hundreds were forced into the structure. They inhaled exhaust fumes, found few bathrooms and struggled to sleep under the harsh fluorescent lights, the soldiers said.
Why Was the National Guard in DC?
Per Horton’s reporting, the Guard was activated with short notice due to the January 6 2021 attempted right-wing coup and insurrection, when supporters of former U.S. President Donald trump swarmed the Capitol building, leaving death and destruction in their wake:
Thousands of soldiers from many states remain in Washington in response to the attempted insurrection on Jan. 6  and a mission to secure Wednesday [January 20 2021]’s presidential inauguration.
When Were National Guardsmen Moved to the Parking Garage?
In an article published just after 7PM on January 21 2021 and updated the following morning, Politico reported that the Guardsmen were allowed back into the Capitol the same night — but that they had been relocated for “hours” to an area with one bathroom for 5,000 people:
Thousands of National Guardsmen were allowed back into the Capitol Thursday night [January 21 2021], hours after U.S. Capitol Police officials ordered them to vacate the facilities, sending them outdoors or to nearby parking garages after two weeks pulling security duty after the deadly riot on Jan. 6 .
One unit, which had been resting in the Dirksen Senate Office building, was abruptly told to vacate the facility on Thursday [January 21 2021], according to one Guardsman. The group was forced to rest in a nearby parking garage without internet reception, with just one electrical outlet, and one bathroom with two stalls for 5,000 troops, the person said. Temperatures in Washington were in the low 40s by nightfall.
Quoting one anonymous Guardsman who said the Guard “felt betrayed,” Politico added:
All National Guard troops were told to vacate the Capitol and nearby congressional buildings on Thursday [January 21 2021], and to set up mobile command centers outside or in nearby hotels, another Guardsman confirmed. They were told to take their rest breaks during their 12-hour shifts outside and in parking garages, the person said.
How Many Guardsmen Remained After the Inauguration?
A late-morning Associated Press item about the controversy indicated that more than 10,000 Guardsmen remained in Washington:
After President Joe Biden’s inauguration went off with only a handful of minor arrests and incidents, more than 15,000 National Guard members are preparing to leave Washington, D.C., and head home.
The National Guard Bureau said Thursday [January 21 2021] that of the nearly 26,000 Guard troops deployed to D.C. for the inaugural, just 10,600 remain on duty. The bureau said the Guard is helping states with coordination and the logistics so that troops can get home.
The Guard said that it may take several days to make all the arrangements to return the 15,000 home, but it should be complete in five to 10 days. Guard members will have to turn in equipment, make travel plans and go through COVID-19 screening.
Some local law enforcement agencies have asked for continued assistance from the Guard, so roughly 7,000 troops are expected to stay in the region through the end of the month.
Who Broke the Story?
According to CNN, Politico.
Which Lawmakers Objected?
Per the same CNN item, outrage at the circumstances first highlighted by Politico was bipartisan:
Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, wrote, “Very upset by this story but I have been in touch with the Utah National Guard and they are taken care of. My staff and I are investigating what happened here and will continue working to fix this situation.”
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, tweeted, “Just made a number of calls and have been informed Capitol Police have apologized to the Guardsmen and they will be allowed back into the complex tonight. I’ll keep checking to make sure they are.”
And Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, tweeted, “This is outrageous, shameful, and incredibly disrespectful to the men and women keeping the U.S. Capitol safe and secure. We need it fixed and we need answers on how it happened.”
On Friday morning [January 22 2021], Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer thanked a few National Guard members resting in the US Capitol Visitor’s Center and told CNN what had happened was an outrage, vowing it won’t happen again.
In essence, everyone.
Why Was the National Guard Sent to a Parking Garage in the First Place?
Predictably, the little that is known about the circumstances behind the widespread outcry came from Guardsmen speaking anonymously to the media.
In a January 22 2021 MilitaryTimes.com piece, stitched-together accounts from Guardsmen suggested that the parking garage was used as a staging area after the Capitol insurrection on January 6 2021 — perhaps leading to its use as a makeshift shelter in the confusion:
The basement had been used as a combination sleeping, staging, briefing, eating and rest area for hundreds of troops keeping the Capitol safe in the wake of the deadly Jan. 6  siege in which five people died.
The soldier, whose unit initially was put up in a local hotel, said that many later-arriving Guard troops had to find places to sleep in the Capitol.
At first, they were sleeping in the basement, then in the fifth-floor tennis courts, the soldier told Military Times. Then it was back to the basement.
Officials from the D.C. National Guard [DCNG], which is continuing to support Capitol Police, told Military Times that the troops were moved out of the Capitol because Congress is in session.
“As Congress is in session and increased foot traffic and business is being conducted, Capitol Police asked the troops to move their rest area,” the DCNG said in a statement. “They were temporarily relocated to the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Center garage with heat and restroom facilities.”
Who Ordered the National Guard to Sleep in a Parking Garage?
Also predictably given the unanimous, vocal outrage surrounding the story, no one was particularly eager to assume responsibility for the situation.
Initially, the Washington, D.C. National Guard asserted that Capitol Police were the ones who had issued the order:
The Washington, D.C., National Guard said earlier Thursday [January 21 2021] that they had been asked to move its rest area by Capitol Police.
“As Congress is in session and increased foot traffic and business is being conducted, Capitol Police asked the troops to move their rest area. They were temporarily relocated to the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Center garage with heat and restroom facilities,” the D.C. Guard said.
“We remain an agile and flexible force to provide for the safety and security of the Capitol and its surrounding areas,” it said.
On January 22 2021, Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman issued a statement denying that Capitol Police were the ones who had ordered the National Guard to relocate to the parking garage. Emphasis in the first paragraph was part of the original statement, emphasis in the third is ours:
“I want to assure everyone that, with the exception of specific times on Inauguration Day itself while the swearing-in ceremonies were underway, the United States Capitol police did not instruct the National Guard to vacate the Capitol Building facilities. And on Inauguration Day, the Guard was notified and encouraged to reoccupy the spaces in the Capitol and CVC at 2 p.m.
“Over the past several days, the U.S. Capitol Police has been working tirelessly with its Congressional stakeholders to identify appropriate accommodations across the entire Capitol complex for their use.
“It was brought to our attention early today [January 22 2021] that facility management with the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Office Building reached out directly to the National Guard to offer use of its facilities.
“As of this morning [January 22 2021], all Guardsmen and women have been relocated to space within the Capitol Complex. The Department is also working with the Guard to reduce the need for sleeping accommodations by establishing shorter shifts, and will ensure they have access to the comfortable accommodations they absolutely deserve when the need arises.”
In the statement, Pittman maintained that “facility management with the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Office Building” elected to offer use of the structure to the Guard. Another anonymous Guardsman told MilitaryTimes.com that Capitol officers had individually apologized:
“We were let back into the same area that we had before … All of the Capitol police that we’ve been working with on guard shifts said they knew nothing about it and apologized but said that the order didn’t come from them.”
MilitaryTimes.com included a statement from Air Force Maj. Matthew Murphy, a National Guard Bureau spokesman:
“Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead, Inauguration Task Force Commander, confirms that troops are out of the garage and back into the Capitol building as authorized by the USCP Watch Commander and the troops will take their breaks near Emancipation Hall going forward … Our troops are going to hotel rooms or other comfortable accommodations at the end of their shifts.”
CBS News reported conflicting claims made by Senator James Inhofe:
Senator James Inhofe, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said Friday [January 22 2021] on the Senate floor that he’d spoken with the Army chief of staff and the acting chief of Capitol Police about the situation.
Inhofe relayed: “So this is what happened. There was one uniformed police offer who issued who issued an order without authority or going through the chain of command. I’m glad the Capitol Police are trying to figure who it was. We will identify who that person was and make it public.”
When Was the Situation Resolved and the Guardsmen Moved from the Parking Garage?
On the night of January 21 2021, bipartisan outrage erupted following a Politico story indicating the National Guard was ordered to sleep in a parking garage, with insufficient restroom facilities and unsafely “packed like sardines” with no ability to social distance. Lawmakers from both parties quickly responded; the National Guard initially claimed the Capitol Police issued the order, and Capitol Police asserted the facility itself elected to temporarily shelter Guardsmen. On the same night, Duckworth affirmed that “the last Guardsmen will clear the garage by 2330 [11:30 PM]” on January 21 2021, and ancillary information indicated troops would be “going to hotel rooms or other comfortable accommodations at the end of their shifts.” Precisely how the National Guard wound up sheltering in a parking garage remained something of a mystery, and statements denying responsibility were swiftly issued by several different parties.