Investigation launched into low-flying helicopters over D.C. protests

Elizabeth Howe
June 03, 2020 - 11:32 am
DC NG Helicopters


Within hours of a report that District of Columbia National Guard helicopters were flying at unsafely low levels over protestors in Washington, D.C., Secretary of Defense Mark Esper ordered an investigation into the incident, he says. 

Late Monday night, helicopters with D.C. National Guard were reportedly ordered by Trump administration officials to fly low over protestors to display a "show of force." Now, Esper says he directed the Secretary of the Army to launch an investigation in order to determine exactly what the DCNG crafts were doing and who ordered them to do so.

"When you're landing that low in a city it looks unsafe to me -- but I need to find out more about what was going on," Esper said at a Pentagon press briefing Wednesday morning. But he added that there were still questions that needed answers and he would wait for the Army to provide those before furthering any reports of what actually occurred. 

"I hold all members of the District of Columbia National Guard to the highest of standards. We live and work in the District, and we are dedicated to the service of our nation," said Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, DCNG Commanding General. "I have directed an immediate investigation into the June 1 incident.”

Over the weekend, all 1,300 members of the D.C. National Guard were activated by Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy -- D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser only requested 500, she said. Since then, the Department of Defense has augmented the DCNG with National Guard troops from other states. Some states have refused the capital's request for additional forces. 

Additionally, active-duty troops from Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Drum in New York were recently moved to the National Capital Region for “prudent planning measure in response to ongoing support to civil authorities operations.”

D.C. officials have pushed back on the "aggressive" response in the nation's capital. 

DC officials push back on aggressive response to protests

"Guard personnel, who serve and live in the local community, are trained, equipped and prepared to assist law enforcement authorities with protecting lives and property of citizens within the District," the D.C. National Guard said in a statement. 

The president, Esper, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley have all faced backlash over the involvement of the military in suppressing protests across the country. 

SECDEF: ‘I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act’

“The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now,” Esper said in a divergence from the Trump administration's messaging. “I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act."


Reach Elizabeth Howe on Twitter @ECBHowe.

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