The Oklahoma National Guard is deploying personnel to both Washington, D.C., and Oklahoma City to support law enforcement efforts to defend the state and national capitols after last week's deadly insurrection during a joint session of Congress.
Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Mancino, assistant adjutant general for the Oklahoma Army National Guard, said Friday approximately 340 soldiers and airmen are en route to Washington to support the U.S. Secret Service in protecting President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration. He said the Guard has deployed for presidential inaugurations before, but not in this manner or at this scale.
"Usually, we send a handful of experts, usually from our weapons of mass destruction unit, that are experts in, let's say, nuclear, biological or chemical warfare," Mancino said. "And they'll go to lend their expertise to different inaugural events. This is the first, to my knowledge, of a largescale deployment to an inauguration."
"It's a bittersweet moment. I'm obviously very proud of the men and women of the Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard that have volunteered to fulfill this role, but it's also a little bit disappointing that they need to be there in the first place," Mancino said.
"We've been very consistent in Oklahoma in the message from the adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Michael Thompson, that we completely support citizens' rights to their First Amendment freedoms of assembly and speech. But when those cross over into violence against people and property, then the Guard will step in."
Maj. Gen. Thompson said he was "heartbroken" and "deeply saddened" watching last week's attack.
"I'm not trying to be dramatic or anything like that, but sitting here watching that, it was just a surreal experience. I never in my life -- and I'm 57 -- thought that I would see something like that in our own country," Thompson said.
"This rhetoric that led to the incident in D.C., it doesn't feel as if that's an isolated incident, it feels like it's a widespread movement," Thompson said.
Mancino said Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday authorized the deployment of about 80 soldiers to support the Oklahoma Highway Patrol in securing the state Capitol in Oklahoma City.
"At this moment, to my knowledge, there is no specific, actionable intelligence of a threat in the Oklahoma City capital region. However, the governor's estimation is, based on recommendations from the highway patrol, he's authorized us to be ready and be available to the highway patrol should they be needed," Mancino said.
"After last week," Thompson said, "there's really nothing out of bounds. So if something did happen here in Oklahoma City or Tulsa or somewhere around, you know, the state of Oklahoma, we've had plenty of warnings so we need to be prepared for that."
"Shame on us if we aren't prepared to respond and think that something couldn't happen, because the biggest 'couldn't happen' already did last Wednesday," Thompson said.
Mancino said he was unable to publicly state the duration of the missions for "operational reasons, but in both cases you can assume they would be there until post-inauguration."
According to the Associated Press, the FBI has issued warnings about potential violence and armed protests at all 50 state capitols on or around the day of Biden's inauguration.
In a press release, the governor's office said they had activated the Guard "out of an abundance of caution."
"I support the right for Oklahomans to peacefully demonstrate, but we will not tolerate violence or damage to property," said Gov. Stitt in a statement. "At the request of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the National Guard has been authorized to provide support as needed. These hardworking Oklahomans are our friends and neighbors who step up in times of need. Any violence and damage to property goes against the Oklahoma Standard and is a distraction designed to keep us from uniting together."