As of Wednesday evening, the National Guard remained activated and on standby in at least 10 states for possible civil unrest in the wake of the hotly contested 2020 presidential election. Most of the states were not forthcoming about the size of their activations, though Military Times has tallied at least 2,600 troops activated between Alabama, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.
This count does not include states that may have personnel still on state active duty to process ballots or shore up cybersecurity.
Prior to election night, there was concern of wide-spread unrest over what has been an extraordinarily contentious and divisive presidential election. As of Wednesday evening, that feared unrest has not materialized beyond scattered protests and rioting in Portland. Dealing with civil unrest became a mission all too familiar for Guard troops in the wake of national unrest sparked when a white Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by kneeling on his neck in May.
All of the states confirmed that their forces were on state active duty orders, either to Military Times on Wednesday, or in the case of Texas, to other news outlets last week. This means that the troops are under the sole control of their governors, rather than President Donald Trump, who prematurely declared victory in several key states. The election has not been conclusively determined, though, and the New York Times estimates more than 2 million votes remain to be counted in key battleground states as of early Wednesday evening.
The majority of states with troops on state active duty have opted to keep them in a standby status, and in some cases, the troops are part of a regional response team poised to react to any civil disturbance, in addition to the election. These forces are waiting in their staging locations and are ready to respond if necessary, say numerous state Guard officials.
Troops from the Alabama National Guard and Arizona National Guard remain on standby as part of their National Guard Regional Response mission commitments. Each state has approximately 300 troops activated and prepared to rapidly deploy in the case of civil unrest anywhere in the nation. This is an ongoing mission not explicitly tied to the election, though the troops would be among the first to respond in the case of massive unrest similar to that seen in June. Both Alabama and Arizona Guard officials emphasized that the troops were on state active duty orders regardless of the election.
At least two other states, Georgia and Missouri, have an undisclosed number of troops currently supporting law enforcement as part of ongoing civil unrest missions.
The Georgia Guard has had varying levels of troops active since Gov. Brian Kemp issued an executive order in late May, and some were spotted at a gas station just outside of Atlanta on Monday evening. “The Georgia National Guard has been augmenting the Georgia Department of Public Safety...since the 29th of May,” said a Georgia Department of Defense media release. “We will continue to provide support to state and local law enforcement under the provisions of the Governor’s emergency declaration.”
A video shared on Twitter by a reporter from an Atlanta CBS affiliate appeared to show Georgia National Guard forces at the state capitol in downtown Atlanta on Wednesday evening.
The Missouri National Guard has had troops responding to civil unrest since September 24, including several who took up positions in downtown St. Louis on Tuesday night. The move into downtown was a “precautionary measure,” said Anna Friederich-Maggard, the Missouri Guard’s director of public affairs.
In Philadelphia, around 1,000 Pennsylvania National Guard troops remain in the streets primarily as a continuation of their response to riots following the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr., a mentally ill Black man. The forces temporarily left the city on Election Day in order to avoid being in the streets during voting hours, said Lt. Col. Keith Hickox, the state public affairs officer, to Military Times on Wednesday afternoon. The troops will likely remain for several days regardless of the drawn-out election because Wallace’s funeral is this weekend, explained Hickox.
An undisclosed number of Illinois National Guard forces are still activated and on standby as well, according to Lt. Col. Bradford Leighton, the state’s public affairs officer. “We’ll still be on standby for a few days,” Leighton told Military Times via phone. He said he could not disclose troop levels or whether the mission has a planned conclusion, saying instead that the troops will remain on state active duty orders “until leadership is confident we won’t be needed.”
The Florida National Guard is keeping troops on state active duty orders in case of civil unrest, according to Lt. Col. Caitlin Brown, state public affairs officer. “They are still activated and will remain on orders as long as directed by the governor,” she said in a Wednesday afternoon text message to Military Times.
In Massachusetts, around 1,000 National Guard troops remain on standby in case of civil unrest connected to the election. They will remain on state active duty “until further order,” explained Capt. Aaron Smith, the Massachusetts Guard’s public affairs officer, to Military Times on Wednesday evening. According to local media, many of the troops are staged in the Chinatown neighborhood of Boston.
The Oregon National Guard deployed approximately 50 troops from its standby pool into the streets of Portland in response to post-election rioting late Wednesday evening, according to Maj. Stephen Bomar, the Oregon Guard’s state public affairs officer. “We have Guard members currently on State Active Duty who have been assigned to support Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office law enforcement operations,” he confirmed to Military Times. An undisclosed number of troops remain on standby.
The entirety of the Oregon Guard’s standby force was originally supposed to come off of state active duty on Wednesday evening before Gov. Kate Brown extended the state of emergency in Oregon with a new executive order. The troops activated include Air National Guard security forces, Army National Guard military police, and other personnel trained to support law enforcement, said Bomar, the state’s public affairs officer, to Military Times.
In Texas, an unknown number of National Guard troops seemingly remain on state active duty. Local news outlets reported in late October that their troop level would be around 1,000, but Military Times was unable to reach Texas Military Department officials on Wednesday evening to confirm the number of troops still activated. Military Times reached the office of Gov. Greg Abbott via phone on Wednesday and was promised an email response, but it had not arrived as of Wednesday evening.
A screenshot of a video obtained via the map feature on Snapchat appears to show Texas National Guard personnel guarding the state’s capitol building in Austin on Wednesday afternoon. Social media users on Twitter also reported seeing troops on Wednesday evening.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.