Emails show ready Minnesota National Guard remained undeployed during BLM riots

by Jacob Fuller

Chris Lieberman, FISM News

Newly-uncovered emails show that the Minnesota National Guard was ready to deploy hours before rioters set a police precinct ablaze during the 2020 Black Lives Matter riots, raising questions as to why troops weren’t sent until it was too late.

According to emails obtained by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, on the morning of May 28, 2020, U.S. Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel informed Deputy Secretary of Defense David Nordquist and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley that he had 200 members of the Minnesota National Guard on standby who were “prepared to be armed should [the Minneapolis Police Department] and the Governor request it.”

At that point, protesters had been taking to the streets of Minneapolis for three days following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25. Initial peaceful vigils quickly turned into civil unrest, and it had become increasingly clear that local law enforcement was unable to get the situation under control.

However, the Guard units were still awaiting orders as the night of May 28 became the most destructive one yet. Police surrendered the Third Police Precinct to protesters at 10 p.m. The National Guard did not arrive at the precinct until 4 a.m. the following morning, by which point the building had been burned to the ground.

“No joy,” Milley wrote in an email to Lengyel in response to the destruction. Milley said that he had just finished a meeting with President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mark Esper and told Lengyel, “Need you to call me ASAP.”

“We had about 300 people who plugged into a community safety response because essentially law enforcement agencies abandoned us,” lamented a local government official in a report commissioned by the state to assess what went wrong. “We were abandoned. By the time the National Guard even came, most everything had quieted down.”

In the aftermath, state and city officials traded blame over why help did not come sooner. Mayor Jacob Frey said that he requested for Gov. Tim Walz to send in the National Guard on May 27, after protesters looted a Target near the Third Precinct station.

“He did not say yes,” Frey said of Walz in an interview with the Star Tribune months after the riots. “He said he would consider it.”

But the Governor’s office claims that Frey didn’t follow protocol in requesting the Guard, including skipping the crucial step of contacting the state Office of Emergency Management. According to a separate review by the city of their response to the riots, “Records indicate soldiers were notified of the deployment as early as Wednesday evening, but the [Minnesota National Guard] command could not initiate the deployment because they had not received sufficient actionable information.”

“We needed some specificity,” one state official said in the state report. “We were having a very hard time figuring out what they actually need to articulate to the Guard, what it is we need them to do, and how many and what kind of soldiers with what equipment. Otherwise, it’s ‘please send help.’ It just doesn’t work that way.”

But a National Guard spokesman told the Star Tribune that Walz was ultimately responsible for the Guard’s deployment. “The governor’s office directs the National Guard to respond — when and where,” he said. “That’s how any state will tell you it goes.”