California overkill

Over the past year, Americans have taken hits on their freedom of movement, their freedom of association, and even their dignity. As the pandemic abates, the masked masses should know what could have been heading down the runway toward them.

The F-15C Eagle, a jet fighter of the U.S. Air Force, can hit speeds of 1,875 mph (Mach 2.4) and boasts a range of 3,450 miles. With its M-16AI cannon and Sidewinder missiles, the Eagle is designed for air-to-air combat. 

But somebody thought the fighter might prove more versatile.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the California National Guard put an F-15C fighter on standby to “buzz” any crowds daring to resist stay-at-home orders at the outset of the pandemic last year. Four National Guard members, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Times the orders were allegedly handed down orally or through text messages rather than in the official manner. 

“We do not use our planes to frighten or intimidate civilians,” National Guard Lt. Col. Jonathan Shiroma told the Times, but there was more to the story. According to internal National Guard documents reviewed by the Times, an F-15C fighter “was placed on an alert status for a possible election-week mission and that officers discussed concerns in March 2020 as well as that summer about using the F-15C for domestic purposes, including to intimidate civilians.” 

Retired National Guard pilot Dan Woodside told the Times that “the decibel level alone from an F-15C demonstrating a show of force can break windows, set off car alarms and cause more fear than shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” Woodside would have disobeyed an order to buzz a civilian crowd with an F-15C, which, as retired Gen. David Bakos explained, “has one mission and one mission alone -- to go up and shoot down other airplanes.”

During the coronavirus lockdown, according to the National Guard whistleblowers, Guard officers told crews to have an F-15C fully fueled and assigned a pilot around the clock. The jet was allegedly not armed, but that leaves the question of the order. The commander-in-chief of the California National Guard is Gov. Gavin Newsom, and any request to deploy the F-15C would have to come from him. Guard brass claim that the deployment was “never a consideration before the governor’s office,” but embattled Californians have cause to wonder. 

Last year Gov. Newsom readily deployed California Highway Patrol troopers in full riot gear to prevent Californians from protesting at the state Capitol in Sacramento. 

If an F-15C had made a sortie, it would not have been America’s first use of military force against civilians. During the Ruby Ridge standoff in 1992, the Federal Bureau of Investigation deployed Army sniper Lon Horiuchi, who shot Vicki Weaver in the head as she held her infant child. Snipers are trained carefully to “acquire” their target, so the government's claim that the killing was accidental might well be doubted. In the 1993 siege at Waco, Texas, the FBI deployed M1 Abrams tanks, a military weapon of awesome firepower. 

In January, as CBS News reported, approximately 2,000 armed troops ringed the U.S. Capitol. According to the Defense Department, the National Guard planned to bring 20,000 troops to Washington, D.C., to protect against “insurgents.” If civilians saw that as a military occupation, it would be hard to blame them. 

Peaceful protesters in California have a right to know if an F-15C was poised to head their way. Gov. Newsom, facing a recall, has yet to announce an official investigation. 

Lloyd Billingsley is a policy fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif.

Image: USAF

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