When Maj. Gen. Michael Thompson repeatedly stressed the purpose of the National Guard during Gov. Kevin Stitt’s news conference on Sunday, he hoped his words would put rumors to rest.
But the calls continue.
“Misinformation, sometimes, is spreading faster than the virus,” Thompson told the Tulsa World. “Every time I think it’s put behind us, it just pops up again.”
The region is ripe with rumors of the Guard setting up at Expo Square in Tulsa, and some are convincingly specific, but Thompson said all are false.
As the adjutant general for the Oklahoma National Guard, Thompson is the top military adviser to the governor and top commander of the Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard.
The National Guard exists across the country, and in each state, it reports to the respective governor. Made up of members of the state’s communities — churchgoers, college students, police officers, barbers, bankers and your kid’s friend’s parents — not “some nameless, faceless bureaucracy,” it exists to protect citizens in times of disaster, Thompson said.
In Oklahoma, they’ve dropped bales of hay for livestock that farmers couldn’t access during the 2015 Muskogee floods and more recently had hundreds of members bagging sand, keeping a 24-hour monitor on the levees and dropping barriers into place via helicopter during Tulsa’s historic flooding in May 2019, Thompson said.
“The Guard is up for a lot of jobs, but rolling in and planting our flag and saying we’re in charge; that’s not one of ‘em,” Thompson said, addressing rumors of martial law. “That’s not what we do.”
Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith has also been fighting to dispel the rumors, and fairground personnel even went so far as to take drone pictures showing residents the empty lots.
“There’s nothing going on,” Keith said. “It’s clear when you drive by. Go drive by, you’re going to see nothing.”
Expo Square CEO Mark Andrus said although the facility is a prime location for any agency outpost in dire circumstances and organizers are ready to support in whatever way they can, he has not received a request for use. In fact, the grounds are remarkably empty as shows cancel months out.
“I have never seen Expo Square look more sad than it does right now,” Andrus said. “The Golden Driller is ready to be open for business.”