Although President Trump has urged the nation’s governors to call out the National Guard if ongoing protests turn violent, Gov. Jim Justice has said he doesn’t think that’s likely in West Virginia.
But Justice has told the president he would be prepared to take that step if necessary.
Adjutant General James Hoyer said today that the West Virginia National Guard’s role in those circumstances would likely be one of support for state and local law enforcement agencies.
Hoyer said he will remain in touch with State Police Superintendent Jan Cahill “where there might be need support for the Guard in certain circumstances.”
An example, Hoyer said, is almost three years ago when the National Guard was called to Huntington to support that city’s fight against a wave of violence connected to drug dealers.
“The Guard came in and provided what we call back side support, logistics and other support, to allow more officers to get out on the street to engage with population,” Hoyer said.
“I think those are the ways that will work, and should we be required to do other activities to support law enforcement we’ll be prepared to do that.”
Protests have erupted in cities across the country following the police brutality death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis.
“It was despicable, despicable what happened to George Floyd,” Justice said Tuesday. “When you’ve got someone who’s handcuffed and pleading that they can’t breathe, it is despicable, and we all know that.”
Many of the demonstrations have remained peaceful, but some have turned into rioting, looting, vandalism and fires.
President Trump in a teleconference with governors on Monday urged state leaders to use the National Guard to “dominate” protests that might otherwise spiral out of control.
Justice, speaking on the conference call with Trump, said he would be willing to use the National Guard if necessary.
“You know, when it really boils right down to it, we’ve had some real peaceful protests. We welcome them,” Justice told the president.
“But absolutely we’re not going to have a problem here because first and foremost, I’m not going to put up with it. There is no way. Instantaneously, we’ll call in the Guard or do whatever we’ve got to do. But I am just exactly like you, and I’m not going to put up with this.”
During a daily briefing on Tuesday, Justice again said he doesn’t believe protests in West Virginia are likely to get out of control.
“First of all, God forbid that we have to get in a situation to where we call in our National Guard because of a bad, bad situation that’s going on in West Virginia,” Justice said.
“Without any question, if we get into a situation where we’re having violence or looting or damage to our buildings or our businesses and everything, I won’t hesitate one second. Not one second. Because we can’t have that.”
Hoyer said the National Guard’s primary mission is to protect and defend the Constitution and the citizens of West Virginia.
During the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Hoyer said that has meant duties such as supporting health care providers with personal protective equipment, helping schools and senior centers with food distribution, helping to process unemployment claims and providing testing support.
“So we’ll stay focused on those things,” Hoyer said.
Hoyer, like Justice, said there’s no sign so far in West Virginia that the National Guard’s involvement would be necessary to quell any disturbances in the state.
“West Virginians are doing things in a very respectful and appropriate manner, and I think the people of West Virginia have great respect for our law enforcement community, our first responders, our National Guard,” he said, “just like we have respect for the citizens of West Virginia.”
In another issue, Hoyer said a member of the National Guard violated the organization’s social media policies in comments about protests.
The National Guard identified the member as a Winfield Police officer, Noah Garcelon, who resigned after making statements on Facebook.
Posts said, “Peaceful protesting. I’d start firing live rounds. Bunch of animals.” And “I’d see how many I can run over before my car breaks down.”
“Unfortunately, we had a member of the National Guard who made some inflammatory comments on social media,” Hoyer said.
“Just want to reinforce again to folks that it’s my responsibility as the head of the organization to the governor to make sure when we make mistakes and do things wrong that we take responsibility and take corrective action. We’ll be taking the appropriate disciplinary action related to that individual or any others we might find who make inflammatory comments related to the protests going on across the nation.”