The National Guard helicopters that few low over Black Lives Matter protestors in June in Washington, D.C. were being ordered by an officer as he drove on his way home, and lacked authorization to be there, according to a new report.
News outlet Defense One got exclusive details about the D.C. National Guard’s investigation into the matter, revealing a battle between the National Guard and the Pentagon’s inspector general over who will be held accountable for the incident, which sparked a massive outcry among former helicopter pilots who said that using the downwash from helicopter rotors to disperse protestors was unsafe and reckless.
The potential for blame, the report says, appears to focus on two officers: Lt. Col Jeffrey Wingblade, who oversaw the choppers while driving home, and Brigadier General Robert Ryan, Wingblade’s superior.
The night that the downwash event took place, the Secret Service had given the D.C. National Guard special permission to fly helicopters over the normally restricted airspace above downtown D.C.
Ryan called Wingblade that evening to tell him to put five helicopters in the air above the National Mall, the report said. Ryan said that he told Wingblade to use the helicopters to collect observations, deter criminal activity, and provide medical evacuation if needed.
Wingblade remembered it differently. He told investigators that Ryan had said “I need you to orbit around the cross to disperse any type of looting, mayhem, whatsoever,” though a third person present on the call denies that account.
Wingblade, who was driving home during all of this, declined to return to his base and instead called the pilot of a UH-72 Lakota helicopter and told him “to orbit around the crowds.”
After the uproar, the report notes, Ryan defended the maneuver in texts by saying that he had received “presidential approval.”
The Defense One report suggests that while the National Guard investigation blames Wingblade, the Pentagon Inspector General wants to further scrutinize Ryan’s role.