US rulers deploy the National Guard, target workers’ jobs, rights

By Brian Williams
April 20, 2020

As the economic and social crisis facing working people unfolding today deepens, the capitalist rulers are taking aim at our political and constitutional rights. One aspect of this is the deployment of over 18,500 Air and Army National Guard troops in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., Guam and the Virgin Islands. And the deployment is growing.

State governors, with authority from Washington to call up National Guard forces, have wide leeway in how to use them. So far, they’ve been deployed two major ways. One is to replace construction and other workers, who’ve been sent home, in building hospitals and other projects. The other is to back or replace the cops in “crowd control” of working people as police fall sick.

This deployment to construction comes in the midst of spreading depression conditions where millions of construction and other workers have lost their jobs. The rulers prefer to keep these workers atomized and at home rather than to put them to work building hospitals and other things workers sorely need today. These workers have precisely the knowledge and skills to do this work and more. But they haven’t been trained in “crowd control.”

National Guard forces are also being used as cops. “Anything that the law enforcement capacity normally does, they could be augmented with National Guard,” Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said at a news conference at the end of March. This can include enforcing government stay-at-home orders. And, they make it clear, Guard members are permitted to carry — and use — their weapons.

“In some states, individuals who violate emergency orders can be detained without charge and held in isolation,” noted the Wall Street Journal.

Some politicians are calling for deployment of the army as well. “We Should Prepare Now to Send U.S. Armed Forces to Help Police in Hard-Hit Areas,” headlined an April 1 Washington Post  opinion column written by several prominent military and police officials, including John Allen, who commanded U.S. Marines in Iraq and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

“With 15 percent of the New York City Police Department recently reporting sick due to illness or self-quarantine,” the article said, “and even higher absentee rates reported elsewhere, hard-hit communities might soon need major assistance with patrolling streets, enforcing restrictions on movement, deterring crime and other tasks.”

One of the signers of the call is John Donohue, identified as the former chief of strategic initiatives for the New York Police Department. What is that, you might ask. Well, his official biography explains he was in charge of NYPD spying, which it boasts is “the largest municipal police intelligence operation in the United States.”

To hasten the National Guard call-up, President Donald Trump placed at least 11 states under Title 32 status, where the federal government covers costs for the troops while the states’ authorities maintain control over what they’ll be doing. Requests for federal subsidy of Guard deployment from 26 other state governors are being processed.

Members of the Army or Air National Guard number almost 450,000 across the country. Many are workers or farmers who hold civilian jobs or attend school while training part time for the military. With no draft in place, the Pentagon has used hundreds of thousands of Guard soldiers to fight and die in U.S. imperialism’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, some forced to serve multiple tours of duty. Guard and Army Reserve troops comprise 45% of Washington’s forces in these wars, sustaining 18.4% of the casualties.

The U.S. rulers consider most working people to be “deplorables,” as Hillary Clinton called them. They fear potential unrest as people who live paycheck to paycheck face no one knows how long without one. They’re convinced workers need to be controlled. This is what is behind the deployment. The only problem is, most Guard members might not take too kindly to being ordered to control workers just like them.

Troops halt interstate travel

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo ordered state police and National Guard troops to stop cars crossing the border with license plates from New York March 26.

Two days later she expanded the order, saying that cars entering Rhode Island from all other states for nonwork-related reasons will be halted and travelers ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days. To enforce this, cops and National Guard units have set up highway checkpoints at the state’s border with Connecticut, as well as at bus and train stations and airports.

Raimondo also dispatched Guard troops to resort towns, knocking on doors looking for people from New York.

If they don’t agree to quarantine, she said, they would be arrested. “That’s an order,” she said. “It comes with penalties.”

Similar actions are being taken in other states. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the state police to set up checkpoints on Interstate 95 near the Georgia border to stop drivers from the New York area.

A few days later he extended the checkpoints to the panhandle to stop all cars coming from Louisiana as well.