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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Some National Guard Members Are Likely To Face Discipline After Refusing To Deploy To Protests

Speaker 1: 00:00 National guard and active duty troops have left the major cities like Washington DC after this month protests. But some service members now are facing consequences because they refuse to deploy Carson frame reports for the American Homefront project Speaker 2: 00:16 in California, more than 2,400 national guard members rushed to major cities as protests erupted following the death of George Floyd. But one member of the California air national guard refused the order to go. Speaker 3: 00:27 You know, if I'm made the decision to go along with it, I feel like I would sort of be compromising, you know, who I am in that moment. Speaker 2: 00:36 He says his senior command is warned him about possible disciplinary actions, but he doesn't yet know what there'll be. The guardsman asked to remain anonymous to prevent a worse outcome. And his voice has been altered though. He anticipated some consequences. He says he wasn't comfortable carrying a weapon around people exercising their first amendment rights. And as a person of color who sympathizes with the black lives matter movement, he says the guards presence, stifled protests. Speaker 3: 01:00 What we're told is discouraged people from, you know, criminal activity and things like that. But that doesn't matter necessarily what is going to be communicated on the ground. When you see people, you know, in uniform with, with, uh, weapons, you know, uh, standing around in formation, Speaker 2: 01:17 he joined the guard expecting to do humanitarian work and was surprised by the call to police his own state. And he says, he's not alone. Speaker 3: 01:25 We have people dealing with COVID. We've had people dealing with, you know, natural disasters and things like that. Uh, but to actually go out and be sort of this invading force, like many people are not uncomfortable with it. They feel like it's not really, um, what they signed up for Speaker 2: 01:40 when the protests began more than 20 States called up their national guardsmen. And president Trump ordered guardsman to patrol the streets of Washington. The president also threatened to send active duty service members into cities across the country, since then veteran service organizations and GI rights groups say troops have been calling to learn about their options for refusing orders. Bill Galvin is a counselor for the GI rights hotline. Speaker 4: 02:02 We've seen a real uptick in people in the national guard, mostly, but some in the reserves, uh, who are facing call up and who are saying, I don't know that this is something I can do. Some of them have said I'm sympathetic to the protests. And, and others have said, I don't think I should be at war with people in my own country. Speaker 2: 02:24 Galvin says troops expressed all kinds of concerns, risk of moral injury, lack of riot control training, and the possibility of acting against the constitution. Galvin says at the peak of the protests, he took several calls a day. Whatever the reason refusing to deploy can have consequences. Speaker 4: 02:40 We do know there's a lot of folks who have chosen not to show. Um, and of course there's a range of possibilities, everything from a military court martial and some jail time, uh, to more administrative kind of punishments, uh, that might even include being kicked out with a bad discharge. It's also quite possible. The command could just ignore it. You know, they can say, well, Speaker 2: 03:00 we've got enough people otherwise. So we're just going to forget about this. I mean, you just don't know at this point, the veterans peace advocacy group about face says they know of some 10 service members who've taken concrete steps to avoid deployment. Many more have asked for support. One is an active duty army soldier stationed in the Midwest though. His unit was never deployed. He says he wouldn't have gone if they had the soldier asked for anonymity because he expects reprisal from his command and the public, his voice has been changed. He says some of the riot control tactics used in DC reminded him of things he saw in Iraq. And he says they shouldn't be used against Americans. To me, it's like that violence that we do overseas is coming back home and rooster national guard officials at the Pentagon say, they're not aware of any widespread disciplinary issues related to the protest response. They added that guardsman deployed to DC, executed their mission with compassion and professionalism. Speaker 1: 03:53 Joining me now is Carson frame, military and veterans issues reporter for Texas public radio and a contributor to NPR is American Homefront project. Welcome to midday edition. Speaker 2: 04:03 Thanks so much Mark, for having me really great to talk to you, Speaker 1: 04:06 we'll start with the national guard's role. They've been called into quell riots before, right. Speaker 2: 04:11 Um, they have, um, there's, there's quite a history there of, um, national guard involvement in protests and rioting. Um, I think they've been activated about 16 times at the federal level and nine of those deployments had to do with the riots and protests, uh, that you're talking about. Um, a lot of those were with regard to integration, um, and trying to overcome resistance to integration in especially schools. I mean, States like Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. Um, but in, you know, after the assassination of MLK, you know, they were called in to stop riots there. And also after the acquittal of, um, the LAPD officers who, um, you know, beat Rodney King, um, and there's, there's also been, you know, a lot of state level call ups by governors for civil unrest. Uh, one example that comes to mind for most people is Kent state. Um, you know, in Ohio, Ohio national guard, fire on a crowd of students protesting Vietnam. And there were also the Watts riots in LA in 65, which were basically a call to end mistreatment by police and discrimination with regard to housing, employment, um, schools and things like that. So, yeah, there's, there's quite, there's quite the background there at the state and federal level. Speaker 1: 05:22 What are the reasons that these guards members are using to refuse orders? Speaker 2: 05:27 It really ranges widely. I mean, some, some of the folks I talked to said that they were seeing a lot of examples of police and service members acting out of line and that they just didn't want to be complicit in that. I mean, others were saying, you know, Hey, I was never trained in riot control tactics or deescalation. I'm not comfortable carrying a weapon in these circumstances because I don't know what gonna happen. You know, other people were saying, you know, these protesters are exercising first amendment rights, and we took oath to defend the constitution. And so those don't square. Um, and then like further down the list, I think there were some concerns about moral injury, um, just taking actions that would be regrettable in retrospect, um, harmful in retrospect then also there was just a lot of sympathy with, with protesters and, and the black lives matter. Speaker 2: 06:15 Cause folks were seeing these protesters often as their friends, their family for their community. And what sort of consequences might they face, if any? Um, I mean, there's still a lot, a lot of unknowns about how commands would punish troops, who resist, um, deploying. I mean, it's, you know, if they publicly refuse orders that they don't show up to the armory or like refuse to, to fire a weapon, if they're told to, um, I mean, theoretically they could face really serious charges like desertion or absent without leave, which is, you know, AWOL, as it's commonly known. Um, they could also be made to separate from service or end up with an other than honorable discharge, um, which would later affect, you know, their careers in their lives online. Uh, but there is a chance and, you know, the GI rights hotline reiterated this to me, um, that they might not get formerly punished at all. Speaker 2: 07:05 I mean, they might just face social backlash from their command, their, their unit where the public, I mean, it really depends, you know, their fate kind of depends on the individual command that they report to and the GI rights hotline, or they're getting many similar calls like this and from concerned guardsman and, and, uh, what about the, um, the right to refuse an illegal order? Do they have advice on that? Yeah, they own the GI rights hotline. Has this been fielding? You know, I've, I know that they get like handful of calls every day about it, and I've only spoken to, I think, two of their counselors, but they said there was an uptick around, you know, right. As the protests began and, and president Trump was using rather aggressive rhetoric, um, you know, with regard to the protests. So they saw an uptick there, you know, there are certain protections for service members if they refuse unlawful orders. Speaker 2: 07:56 I mean, the uniform code of military justice does, you know, make exception for that. Um, so the idea is that a soldier, soldiers in a situation like that, and they have moral and legal obligation to the constitution not to open a, um, but usually, you know, for that opposition to be successful, those have to be really strong examples, like direct violations of the constitution and not the military members like own opinion. And that's where things get a little complicated. There are some ways that they can choose to resist. Um, otherwise, like they can submit like a conscientious objector your packet, which, you know, says that they have to show up at their mobilization spot, but they don't have to carry a weapon. Um, if they've already been called to activate, they can kind of clarify, you know, is this a mandatory activation? Um, you know, which most of the protest deployments are. Um, and then finally, if they're already like on the ground in a protest zone, they do have the option to question a superior. When they're told to do something they think is wrong or illegal, like they can say under what authority are you giving that, that order? So it's sort of like an incremental opposition there. I've been speaking with Carson frame, military and veterans issues, reporter for Texas public radio and a contributor to NPRs American Homefront project. Carson. Thanks very much. Thank you so much, Mark.

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Some members of the National Guard are facing consequences because they refused orders to deploy to major cities during this month's protests.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments