Several members of the Washington, D.C., National Guard have been disciplined for their roles in hovering military helicopters as low as 100 feet above the heads of racial justice demonstrators during last June’s protests on the streets of the nation’s capital.
The battlefield-style show of military force against peaceful demonstrators was widely seen as an authoritarian move by then-President Donald Trump as D.C. National Guard pilots repeatedly flew over the crowded Washington streets and subjected those below to the deafening sound of their crafts’ engines and rotor downwash as intense as the sustained winds of a tropical storm.
As detailed in this Washington Post recreation of the helicopters’ deployment, the force of the wind created by the rotors of the Blackhawk and Lakota helicopters ripped off peoples’ face masks, turned branches and other debris into missiles and left dozens of people with eye and other injuries. Publicly available flight-tracking data shows that at least nine aircraft were deployed. Videos taken from the ninth floor of an 11-story condominium building appear to show the Black Hawk at around 110 feet and condo occupants said they could see soldiers onboard wearing night-vision goggles.
In releasing the report of the incident Army officials refused provide details of the service members’ punishment, describing it as “administrative discipline.” They only said that no one was found to have committed any misconduct. Instead, they contend, those at the controls of helicopters were never given clear guidance as to the parameters and scope of their mission as they sped north over the Potomac River toward the downtown area at 72 miles per hour. Some crew members told investigators they believed they were simply supposed to observe the crowd, although others thought they were supposed to provide the deterrence effect that the low-level hovering would provide.