continued from page “Those things ….
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“Those things are called milestones in my mind,” he explained. “For me, when I was a brand new captain – I had been a captain for one month – in 2005, we had a Southern Governor’s Conference on Lake Oconee, and that’s when Hurricane Katrina was churning in the Gulf. [Louisiana] Governor [Kathleen] Blanco had to get back, so we got her to the airport. I had just been put on the body recovery team for the state of Georgia. So, 500 of us met in LaGrange, and I’m a brand new captain – I don’t know anything. Back in the day, it was, ‘Good luck. If you need us, we’ll call you,’ so I was having to learn by trial and error.”
The group was soon called to help recover the dead in Louisiana, so Barnard sent a scout to find hotel rooms and such in the state prior to the team’s arrival. As the men were crossing through Alabama, the scout called Barnard and told him that every provision had fallen through. This issue led the then new Captain to think on his feet, and to find a way to ensure that those he was leading had everything they needed.
He recounted the events, as he said, “Well, I [had] a state credit card in my pocket. So, I get on the radio, and I tell everyone to pull into Wal-Mart. I said, ‘We’re going camping – get sleeping bags, pots, food – we’ve got to survive.’ So, about $6,000 later, as we all wind up at the cashier and they’re looking at me saying, ‘You’re going to get fired!’ I [told] them that we have to get back to get fired.”
Barnard told the audience that he was not fired but a few miles from the store his phone rang with a call from his Colonel who was outraged and asking what the men had bought, as he could see the charge on the credit card from Atlanta.
“I said, ‘Well, Colonel, I got to get back for you to fire me.’ He said, ‘Yes, you do. Take care of the troops.’ So, I learned lesson 1: you have to be a decision maker even when you’re under fire – you have to do the right thing or what you perceive is the right thing,” he emphasized.
That camping equipment came in handy, as all 500 members of the body recovery team slept on a high school gym floor, hours away from the destruction. They woke up daily at 3:30 a.m. and would drive two hours into the affected area, do their work, and come back around midnight; they would also eat breakfast and dinner at the gym, as two ladies from a local cafeteria cooked daily for the team. This went on for three weeks until the task was complete.
“That was a milestone for me right then and there about leadership and learning lessons,” he remarked. “That was transformational leadership – it empowered our folks. But when you get into civil unrest and those kinds of moments, you have to drop down and be an authoritative leader. But that’s short-lived – most of the time, we should be transformational leaders.” Atlanta Riots and Antifa
Barnard had to become an authoritative leader during what Capitol leaders now refer to as the “Summer of Love.”
State Senator Blake Tillery commented on the situation. “Really, there’s not enough time to tell you all of the stories of what he did during what we in the Capitol refer to as ‘The Summer of Love,’ which was really the ‘Summer of Riots’ in Atlanta. He was integral – he will not tell you the key moves that he made to try to hold down the fort through riot suppression in our state’s most major city during that time period, but I will tell you that without him, there’s no way that property and lives would have been saved as much as they were.”
According to Barnard, handling the Atlanta riots was a challenge that required him to use every bit of what he had learned in the past, along with things which he was learning dayby- day during the period of the riots. “Those lessons that I learned in Atlanta were mostly based on lessons that I learned early in my career,” he continued. “We all want to feel protected. We all want our kids safe; we want to make sure that our property is there when we get home from work. It’s simple – it’s not hard.”
He added, “We choose courage over comfort. The reason the City of Atlanta was in that position was because the Chief of Police and the Mayor at that time – who I consider good friends – would not make the decisions that they needed to make. They were afraid of fallout for doing the right thing. So, on that dreadful night, they told their police officers not to engage – I was standing there. Stuff was on fire. I lost five vehicles and had people that were hurt that night. In the meantime, the Atlanta Police Department (APD) was standing there because they had a direct order not to engage – to allow that to go on.”
Barnard said that each day would bring peaceful protests throughout the city, but when nightfall came, the criminal element of the exhibitions would terrorize the city, as APD continued not to engage with the rioters. “We had a strong governor who knew at that point in time, we had to do something or the whole city was going to burn,” he shared. “In the middle of all that, we had COVID going on. Craziest thing, my greatest fear standing there every night – and I’ll tell you, the governor was with us every day and stood there from around noon to 2-3 a.m. each morning – was losing units as a whole because of COVID.”
The lack of response by leadership to the riots became a catalyst for further destruction, as Antifa took over various areas of the city. “That’s why that little girl got shot in front of the Wendy’s when they backed out and allowed Antifa to put up their own road blocks – and I’m talking about people with rifles – and stop your car, check your license – just like they were law enforcement – and they would allow you in or turn you around. That fateful night, when that boyfriend and girlfriend went to pull off of that highway, he saw what was going on and tried to turn around. They lit the car up and put six rounds in the car, and a round hit that little girl right in the chest – she was sitting in a car seat. Why did that occur? Because you had a failure of leadership at the top,” Barnard told the audience.
He continued, “You had folks that would not make the right decision because they were afraid to make the right decision when most people want the rule of law – its just that small group we hear the most from that doesn’t want that, and that’s why they bow to that.”
After the murder of that 6-year-old child, the Atlanta Police Chief and Mayor soon resigned, but the event left the pair with a lesson learned about leadership. Barnard spoke about this lesson, as he explained that poor leadership is based on excuses. “We get what we accept at the end of the day,” he emphasized. “Confident leaders do the small jobs well and the big ones tend to take care of themselves.”
He added, “Mission comes first, because without that mission, we’re not even here. Then, you have to take care of your folks – their needs come second, and your needs come last. You don’t micromanage; you empower people to make those kinds of decisions. It’s dangerous. It’s a risk. Sometimes, you feel like you are stuck there on an island by yourself. And we did – for about two years, we felt like we were on an island all alone when there was a whole shift of the anti-law enforcement movement. Are there problems in law enforcement? Absolutely, where you have people, you have problems…you are going to have problems if you have people. Just because you have a few bad apples does not mean everybody is bad, but we were in a summer where we were having to combat that every single day.”
One instance where Barnard felt as if he were on an island was when he walked into a convenience store one night during the riots and was told that he couldn’t be in the business because APD would not normally stay in the store. “’They will kill you,’ the clerk told me. The parking lot was full of people. I said, ‘OK, I’m going to get a diet Coke and a pack of crackers – I’m a country boy, and I’m going to stand here, eat them, and talk to everybody that walks in here.’ He said, ‘You’ve lost your mind.’ So, that’s exactly what I did. Of course, the first five or six people looked at me like I was crazy. I turned to him and said, ‘You cannot live your life in fear – that is a choice you are making right here,’” Barnard reflected.
Another time that he and his men felt as if they were alone was when they were battling the riots in Buckhead, where hundreds of Antifa supporters were known to shoot at officers and destroy property. “You could see the interstate through the Department of Transportation camera – they would be lined up with at least 15 people in each car. Their sole job was to jump out and tear up things,” he recalled.
In an effort to prevent this destruction, Barnard told the Atlanta police and other leaders that they needed to block the exit ramp, but all parties responded that they could not do so because of APD’s orders. He then asked the National Guard leadership if he could utilize some of their force, and they agreed to give him two buses and 400 guardsmen. “I said, ‘Take the last bus and turn it sideways in the road on the exit ramp and block it. APD said, ‘You can’t do that!’ I said, ‘You’re about to watch it happen,’” Barnard remarked.
The bus blocked the exit off of I-85 and prevented any more rioters from entering that area. Atlanta police complained during the process about the traffic jam caused by the block, but Barnard reminded them that the interstate was a state highway, and was therefore ultimately the state officers’ responsibility.
“I had to embrace that suck, and we were getting our butt handed to us. I was on the phone with a Colonel [at one point], and you could hear the bricks dropping and glass breaking – all of the windows of his patrol vehicle were knocked out as he tried to move people through that area and keep them alive and well,” he stressed. “You couldn’t walk a foot or a block without stepping on bricks. Everything was still on fire at the break in daylight.”
These chaotic days were more intense than several members of the DNR team had ever experienced. Barnard spoke to the officers about the events one night, as he told them, “Look, I know it’s been a long night. Some of you have never experienced anything like this, and until you have people who are wanting to hurt you, it’s a little different scenario. If you can’t come back – that’s fine, just talk to your supervisor. But if you’re like me and ready for more, be back in six hours.”
During those six hours, Barnard worked to find a way that the law enforcement could have an advantage over the rioters. “All of those things I had dealt with over the years were compiling to help me in that moment right there, and that’s when Quick Reaction Force ATV Unit deployment came into my mind. There would be so many people in the streets that we couldn’t get to where we needed to go – vehicles weren’t happening. I didn’t want to lose five more vehicles at $52,000 a piece,” he explained. “You can’t outrun a four-wheeler – it’s kind of like a horse. When they see that thing coming or group coming while they’re tearing stuff up, they really don’t know what to do.”
On the first night the ATV unit was used, Barnard said the echoed roar of the vehicles thundered, and rioters would look in the direction the ATVs where coming from, but never could figure out what was happening. Thus, by the time they discovered what the vehicles were, law enforcement was already detaining them. “Soon, they learned what the noise was and would run, but it really helped us be able to maneuver around the city,” he commented.
Two nights later, the DNR K-9 Unit, which includes eight dogs from around the state, and the Special Operations Group, which is made up of several officers who are highly trained on ATVs and manhunting procedures, began to work in the city, as Barnard said the team learned daily how to attack the riots.
One of the most challenging areas to squash riots in was “Cop City,” or the Atlanta Training Center in Dekalb County. This training center featured a wooded area, which was merely an overgrown landfill-like area, where Antifa would pay people to live. “We had identified a Venezuelan business man coming out of there – people were being paid to stay in there. Antifa flags were flying throughout what they call the ‘Forest’ – a 2-year-old cutover that is not a forest; there is not a tree in there that you would want. It’s just nasty – basically an old landfill. But they were being paid almost $3,000 a month – some of them in other ways – to stay there and ‘protect’ the forest,” Barnard said.
Antifa advertised the area as a “pristine forest” to immigrants, convincing them that by living in the area, they were protecting the nature; yet, Barnard said that in reality, the area was being used to hide fugitives. “One of the ladies that we pulled out of there was wanted for a Norfolk Southern bombing in South Dakota, and they were hiding her in there – she had been living there for the last six months. Why? It was a safe haven because no one wanted to tackle the issue – it was easier to just kind of look away and let it do what it was going to do rather than addressing the problem,” he shared.
For a year and a half, Antifa lived in this place, which housed 25-75 squatters total. “This group would terrorize everyone around them and nothing would be done about it. The City of Atlanta owned the property, but it was inside DeKalb County. DeKalb said it wasn’t their problem, but the City of Atlanta couldn’t even enforce a law because of being in DeKalb County,” Barnard remarked. “They actually grabbed a Georgia Power contractor, snatched him out of his vehicle, put him in ICU in Grady, and then burnt his truck to the ground because he had come on to ‘their property’ where they were living.”
Often, the DNR and other agencies would do “sweeps” of the area, as they worked to oust Antifa and their violence. During one of the sweeps, a Venezuelan native shot an officer, which was captured through another officer’s body camera footage. The Special Operations Group worked quickly to pull the man out of the area and to safety to receive treatment, but learned that they needed to change their methods of extracting injured officers. “We threw him on the back of the ATV but it caused weight on the back. We had to find a better way to extract people out of these situations,” Barnard stated. “So, we did later, but this time, it was able to save a life. The bullet had clipped an artery in the trooper’s hip. The surgeon said that if everyone had not responded quickly, the trooper would have died about six minutes later.”
After several months of fighting this chaos, the riots soon calmed down. Another problem arose – street racing – in which the DNR is still continuing to help combat. “I had never seen as much lawlessness in my entire life. There were gunshots going off one block over while we’re dealing with a suspect,” he remarked. “Yet, you would still have people that would come up to you and thank you for being there and for trying to make their area safer.”
Barnard also informed that Atlanta had obtained a new police chief and mayor since the riots began, and those two leaders had been taking a lot of heat for their actions to suppress the riots, but that the actions were needed, as he emphasized his respect for the pair.
When concluding the address, Barnard stressed the importance of doing the right thing when necessary, as he said the intensity of the riots came because of the leadership’s decision not to listen to the majority of the population, who wanted safety. “We build our credits in the bank of community trust over a period of time – it’s a long-term commitment to transparency and trust. That is what is expected of our citizens – they want to see that transparency and trust, and they want to see that genuine interaction. If we all want the same thing, why are we not working together? You can’t stay out in your patrol car, you have to talk to folks, especially when we live in a world where social media influences so much and no one does their homework anymore, so they believe the first thing they see,” he summarized. “It’s that slippery slope; Atlanta was that way – a little bit at a time, they gave in.”
He concluded, “You don’t have to do that. Even if you’re by yourself, you have to stand up for what is right or good for the whole. Those folks coming in and out of that store were glad to see me – there were some of them I stood there and talked to for 15-20 minutes at the store. They wanted to feel safe in their homes; they were glad to see me – that’s why we were doing crime suppression. We had to get out of our cars, talk to folks, and relate to them – have those conversations.”