Hundreds More National Guard Troops Descend on Arizona After Trump’s Call for Violence Against Protesters

Arizona National Guardsmen disembark from military vehicles near the Arizona Capitol on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in Phoenix, where there have been several days of protests over the death of George Floyd, who died May 25 after being restrained by Minneapolis police.

By Camaron Stevenson, Farah Eltohamy

June 3, 2020

“This president would rather turn the U.S. military on American citizens than confront the reality that Black and brown Americans face at the hands of law enforcement.”

The Arizona National Guard has called up about 900 soldiers to help the state deal with protests, a move lawmakers say will only lead to more violence against protesters.

The troops include military police that can assist in crowd control, as well as infantry and logistics specialists, according to Guard spokesman Maj. Aaron Thacker said. Some of the military police have been sent to the state Capitol in Phoenix to help protect against civil unrest. The Capitol complex, including the House and Senate buildings and the executive tower, have been surrounded by temporary fencing.

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Other troops are available for deployment in other areas of metro Phoenix and could be sent to towns and cities anywhere in the state, Thacker said. They will be used to free up local police, who have the authority to arrest people.

Local action mirrors national outrage

Protests have erupted in U.S. cities and Europe in the days after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died last week after an officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.

Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tucson have seen protests that led to property damage.

The Guard also is reviewing a request from President Donald Trump to send troops to other areas of the nation to help control crowds, Thacker said.

“Our response is that we are assessing the local situation before we can commit to exporting any forces to other states and territories,” Thacker said.

President Donald Trump pledged to deploy “thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers” to put down protests during a Rose Garden speech Monday afternoon, as the nation entered its second week of clashes between police and demonstrators.

Increasing police presence

The protesters have been met with a strong police presence in most cities, equipped with riot gear, rubber bullets, and tear gas. Gov. Doug Ducey’s announcement of a statewide curfew Sunday night added National Guard support for local law enforcement, but Trump said that’s not enough.

A local protesters walks in front of a barricade of police officers minutes prior to the 8 PM curfew on Sunday May 31, 2020 in Downtow Phoenix, AZ.

“Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled,” Trump said Monday. “If a city or a state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”

RELATED: Trump Slams Governors as ‘Weak’ and Pushes Them to ‘Dominate’ Protests

Critics have questioned whether Trump has the authority to invoke the Insurrection Act to send federal troops into U.S. cities without the approval of state and local officials. More importantly, they question whether it’s the right thing to do.

Lawmakers speak out

“While we must protect small businesses and the safety of all citizens, the president’s threat to invoke the Insurrection Act is not what our country needs now,” said Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona. “Americans have the right to peacefully assemble.”

O’Halleran, a former police officer, said he was “horrified by videos that show federal law enforcement officers firing rubber bullets and tear gas at peaceful protesters outside the White House” Monday as the president was speaking. That police action, shortly before the start of a Washington, D.C., curfew, cleared a path from the White House to nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church, where Trump walked for a photo holding a Bible after his speech.

RELATED: Bishop Who Oversees St. John’s Church Says Trump Trampled On The Bible With Teargas Photo Op

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Tucson, said Trump is escalating the situation and doing nothing to address the underlying issues that led to these protests in the first place.

“This president would rather turn the U.S. military on American citizens than confront the reality that Black and brown Americans face at the hands of law enforcement,” Grijalva said in a statement Tuesday.

Youth protesters climb and sit on storage containers as crowds grow during the intiial peaceful protests on Sunday May 31, 2020 in Downtow Phoenix, AZ.

State and National Guard on alert

The Arizona Guard has about 7,600 members and many are already deployed to help boost border control, assist in the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and provide helicopter support to wildfire operations, he said. In addition, about 200 soldiers are preparing to deploy overseas.

“We have a lots of plates spinning right now,” Thacker said.

Besides confirming the Capitol operations, Thacker declined to say where Guard members called up to assist with protests are planning to operate, citing security concerns.

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About 750 Guard members are still on duty providing virus-related help, including logistics experts who were called up in March to help grocery stores restock after a run on supplies.

“We are not just the guys out there with riot shields – we’re the guys out there getting food to folks,” Thacker said.

Challenging the Pentagon

But some officials would prefer that none of the Guard be decked out with riot gear. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, has also come out with harsh criticisms against Trump’s use of force against protestors. Gallego, who served in the Marines until 2006, joined protestors on Monday to support the calls for racial justice and witness the police’s presence firsthand.

The next morning, Gallego sent a short, pointed letter to the Pentagon regarding the use of military force against protestors. It contained one line:

“Do you intend to obey illegal orders from the president?”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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  • Camaron Stevenson

    Camaron is the Founding Editor and Chief Political Correspondent for The Copper Courier, and has worked as a journalist in Phoenix for over a decade. He also teaches multimedia journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

  • Farah Eltohamy
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