California · Fresno · Highlight

Fresno-based F-15 jet readied for possible intimidation of election, Floyd protesters, report says

On three occasions last year, California’s National Guard sought to place a Fresno-based F-15C on alert status during heightened civil unrest as a potential intimidation tool, a new report says.

Internal documents, reviewed by The Los Angeles Times, found that the California Guard placed an F-15C fighter jet – known for air-to-air combat – on alert status for a “possible domestic mission.”

The first order, issued in last March, came as part of military preparation for potential unrest tied to the state’s stay-at-home orders or potential coronavirus panic.

The march order did not specify a particular mission, but Guard sources speaking to the paper said it was believed to be reserving the fighter jet for the possibility of scaring off and dispersing protesters via low-altitude flights, similar to operations undertaken in war zones overseas.

The jet, stationed with the 144th Fighter Wing near Fresno Yosemite International Airport, was placed on alert again in the wake of the death of George Floyd in May, which sparked intense protests and some riots nationwide – including in Los Angeles.

The Guard once again placed the F-15C on alert status to potentially head off any unrest generated by the Nov. 3 presidential election.

In no instance was the F-15C deployed.

The directives, issued via the California Guard’s Sacramento headquarters, were delivered orally or via text message rather than through formal written communiques, increasing the worry some Guard personnel had that the orders were inappropriate.

A spokesman for Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, the leading commander of the California Guard, denied the placement of the F-15C on alert status for the three civil disturbance incidents.

“We do not use our planes to frighten or intimidate civilians,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Shiroma said.

The week before the election, an unnamed Cal Guard lieutenant colonel sent a message to Guardsmen in Fresno to have the jet “ready to takeoff within two hours” beginning the day before the election.

As part of the chain of command, Baldwin reports to Gov. Gavin Newsom. A spokeswoman for Newsom told the paper that the jet “was never a consideration before the governor’s office,” adding that if it had been he “would not have approved it.”

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Staff reports from The San Joaquin Valley Sun staff.