By LUIS MARTINEZ, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Up to 7,000 National Guardsmen will remain in Washington for about seven more weeks to assist federal law enforcement agencies concerned over potential domestic disturbances, the Guard’s top general said.
“We’re looking at probably mid-March right now,” Gen. Daniel Hokanson told reporters on Saturday.
The size of that force can be adjusted depending on requests from local law enforcement agencies, he added. Whether the remaining guardsmen will continue to be armed will be decided by federal law enforcement.
A U.S. official told ABC News that the agencies were seeing “chatter” among extremist groups discussing potential disturbances in the nation’s capital.
As for the troops making up the 7,000, Hokanson added: “Some of them will be the folks that are already here. Some states are actually going to rotate other folks, and we’re working very closely with the states to determine that next.”
Hokanson made his comments as he carried out his daily visit with the guardsmen who are securing the Capitol. At the spacious Capitol Visitors Center, he also met with guardsmen from Indiana and Virginia, who were taking a short break, and asked them if they were getting everything they needed.
On Friday, guardsmen were once again allowed to use the facility for rest periods after the public outcry generated by photos that showed them resting inside an unheated parking garage. The use of the garage occurred after a request was made to the Guard that they stop using indoor locations on Capitol grounds.
Hokanson also confirmed that fewer than 200 of the 25,000 National Guardsmen who provided security on Inauguration Day had contracted COVID-19, an infection rate lower than 1%.
“We do everything we can, but we do think that number is low,” said Hokanson. The infected guardsmen will remain in Washington while sick as some of the 25,000 who were on hand for Inauguration Day began returning to their home states on Saturday.
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