Officials with the National Guards of Georgia and Minnesota offered swift denials on Saturday regarding allegations that some of its citizen soldiers sent into protest zones were underage.
Video captured in Minneapolis and Atlanta during the fourth day of protests over the police killing of George Floyd, 46, appeared to show several armed young men and women dressed in battle fatigues. In footage posted to Twitter, protesters are heard saying the soldiers appear as young as 13 years old.
The videos quickly went viral on Twitter with most users expressing shock or dismay over the soldiers’ diminutive height and youthful visage. Many of the apparent guardsmen seemed dwarfed by the protesters who approached them without resistance. In the small hours of the morning, rampant allegations began to spread online that the National Guard had deployed “child soldiers” to quell the violent clashes with police. (The hashtag #HitlerYouth trended in some cities.)
Asked whether any of its members depicted in the videos are minors, Lt. Colonel Patrick Watson, the director of public affairs for the Georgia National Guard, said in an email: “Absolutely not.”
Sergeant First Class Ben Houtkooper, a public affairs specialist for the Minnesota National Guard, wrote that, “All of our activated service members are traditional, fully-trained Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen, with ages currently ranging from 18 to 63.”
Both officials were provided copies of the footage taken in their respective states beforehand.
The U.S. Army’s minimal height requirement is 58 inches or four-foot-ten. The minimum weight requirement for male soldiers this tall is 91 lbs. Women under five-foot tall must weigh at least 124 lbs. (The average 13-year-old teenager is taller than this minimum height requirement.)
It’s also easy to determine the sizes of certain objects in the footage because they are standard, such as the rifles they are holding, which are over three-foot long. One of the shortest-looking soldiers is holding a rifle this size and is clearly almost two feet taller than the weapon in her hand. Another guardsman appears small because she’s standing next a much taller male, but she’s also holding a riot shield, which is typically 48-inches tall and only rises to her chest. This would make her around four-foot-ten, at a minimum.
The camera angle in some cases, pointed downward at these shorter individuals, may make the subjects appear smaller than they are. But this is a perspective illusion.
A night-time video captured in Atlanta—confirmed by the appearance of the city’s Bank of America tower in the distance—depicts four guardsmen holding rifles and riot shields. The individual filming them is heard saying: “This is honestly weird, there is literally like a 12-year-old out here—13, maybe 14. I don’t know what the fuck y’all got runnin’.”
Other footage of the Minnesota National Guard was captured by Instagram user @freebandz.sj, who came into close contact with the guardsmen. The guardsman did not break ranks or issue any commands for the protesters to halt their advance or step back. The encounter appeared largely peaceful.
At one point, @freebandz.sj appears to lean down and speak with a female solder standing in formation. “At 8 o’clock there’s a curfew, you know that right?” he says. The guardsman appears to respond that they are not there to enforce the city’s curfew. @freebandz.sj responds, “That’s what I like to hear, good job.”
Patches on the troops’ uniforms resemble those in use by the 347th Regional Support Group, which is part of the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division based out of the Minneapolis region.
@freebandz.sj later asks the guardsman what happens if the police and protesters clash. “If we’re peacefully protesting and they come attacking us, what’s going to happen? Are you guys going to help them or not?” The guardsman’s responses are too muffled by her gas mask to hear. (The footage appears sideways on YouTube.)
Speculation was rampant online that the smaller guardsmen may be members of a mobilized JROTC or participants in other youth programs.
The National Guard runs a Child, Youth & School Services program “available for school age dependants of Army National Guard service members ages 6 to 18 years old.” The program’s mission statement is to “promote and sustain the quality of life and resiliency of National Guard children and youth by providing secure, timely, flexible, high-quality support services and enrichment programs.” The program also has a U.S. Army equivalent.
Officials with the National Guard units deployed in Atlanta and Minneapolis denied that anyone depicted in battledress are members of any youth program. All are at least 18 years old, they said.
Later in the Minneapolis video, the guardsman appear to be coordinating with police. It is only after they fall back to the police department’s staging position that police officers begin firing tear gas at protesters to enforce the 8pm curfew.
The nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers entered its fourth day with crowds gathering in as many as 30 cities. The National Guard has been authorized to help control crowds in Georgia and protests at the White House are expected again tonight.
In a tweet Saturday, President Trump appeared to invited his supporters to counter-protest demonstrators at the White House, saying: “Tonight, I understand is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???”