Gov. J.B. Pritzker activated 500 Illinois National Guard troops Thursday, with plans to send them to Washington D.C. "at the request of the Department of Defense, his office announced.
“The U.S. Department of Defense has asked Illinois to assist federal and local agencies in this continued effort, and Major General Neely and I are ready to ensure that the state of Illinois continues its proud legacy of protecting our democracy,” Pritzker said in a statement. “Ultimately, we must root out the dark forces of racism, white supremacy and disinformation that have created this moment, but until we do that, our extraordinary troops will deploy with honor.”
The soldiers, along with some Illinois Air National Guard airmen, are expected to remain at the nation’s capital until mid-March.
Those members have since returned to Illinois, but 50 have volunteered to return in the latest deployment.
“We are deploying these forces in support of civilian law enforcement based on threat-levels against the U.S. Capitol. These threats were assessed by the FBI and other federal agencies,” Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, the Adjutant General of Illinois and Commander of the Illinois National Guard, said in a statement. “Our soldiers and airmen are committed to the defense of both our nation and our state. We have asked a lot of them in the last year and each time these men and women have answered the call and upheld their oath to defend and support the U.S. Constitution. I could not be more proud of these Soldiers and Airmen.”
The Department of Homeland Security issued a national terrorism bulletin Wednesday warning of the lingering potential for violence from people motivated by antigovernment sentiment after President Joe Biden's election, suggesting the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol may embolden extremists and set the stage for additional attacks.
The department did not cite any specific plots, but pointed to “a heightened threat environment across the United States” that it believes “will persist” for weeks after Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration.
The Illinois forces are set to join approximately 7,000 National Guard members from throughout the United States in Washington, D.C. In February, that force will draw down to 5,000, officials said.
Pritzker noted that 325 members of the guard have already been activated to help with vaccinations in Illinois, with "hundreds more to come online in the coming weeks." He says that mission will not be impacted by the Washington, D.C. deployment.