Trump Federalizes Crackdown on Protestors
More than a half-dozen federal agencies have deployed officers to support law enforcement efforts in the wake of protests against police brutality.
President Trump on Monday tasked a slew of federal law enforcement agencies to deploy in response to civil unrest in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed by police in Minnesota last week. Those officials at times reacted forcefully to disperse peaceful protestors.
The Justice Department on Monday deployed personnel in Washington from the FBI; Drug Enforcement Agency; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Marshals Service; and Bureau of Prisons, a spokesman said, adding those officials were “closely coordinating” with the departments of Defense and Homeland Security. DHS deployed officers from Customs and Border Protection. They joined the Secret Service and the Interior Department’s U.S. Park Police in responding to the demonstrations that began last week.
Graphic video showing Floyd’s death as police officer Derek Chauvin pressed a knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as he begged for air has sparked international revulsion and days of protests across the country.
Trump on Monday threatened to deploy thousands more military and National Guard personnel across the country, accusing mayors and governors of insufficiently responding to protests that have led to some vandalism and looting. He suggested the movement championed by initial protestors had been co-opted by agitators who were performing “acts of domestic terror.”
“That is why I am taking immediate presidential action to stop the violence and restore security and safety in America,” Trump said at the White House on Monday. “I am mobilizing all available federal resources—civilian and military—to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson, and to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights.” He added he would send U.S. military troops into cities that took, in his view, insufficient action.
Kerri Kupec, a Justice spokesperson, said the department's personnel would "maximize federal security presence" throughout the nation's capital.
"Today, President Trump directed Attorney General [Bill] Barr to lead federal law enforcement efforts to assist in the restoration of order to the District of Columbia," Kupec said.
CBP said in a statement it was deploying uniformed officers to prevent harm to citizens and the destruction of property.
“This action is necessary to support our law enforcement partners in their efforts to prevent any further civil unrest in the D.C area,” the agency said. “It is our sincere hope that local protests remain peaceful and without incident. Our brave CBP agents, officers and operators stand ready to assist in protecting our law enforcement partners from any lawless rioting, domestic acts of terrorism, and other criminal activities.”
As Trump was speaking at the White House, federal personnel from at least the Secret Service and Park Police dispersed tear gas and smoke bombs into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators. The protestors were gathered in Lafayette Park and surrounding public areas across from the White House and were not in violation of the city's curfew. Nonetheless, Park Police officers on horseback and Secret Service personnel in riot gear waded into the crowd to push them back. The actions enabled Trump to then walk through the park to St. John’s Church, which sustained fire damage during weekend protests, for a photo opportunity in which he held up a Bible but delivered no remarks.
Congress is already launching a probe into the incident. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s panel on government operations, asked Secret Service Director James Murray for communications and other documents related to Trump's walk and the treatment of protestors.
“While the Secret Service is tasked with protecting the president of the United States, it is not a tool of fascism, and the conduct and operations of the Secret Service cannot be allowed to infringe upon the constitutional rights of the American people for the purposes of serving the president’s personal vanity,” Connolly wrote in his letter to Murray.
Trump was flanked by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley and and Attorney General Bill Barr when he stood at the church. Without explaining what he meant, Trump said Milley would be “in charge” of the government’s response to the unrest. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said on Tuesday that putting the military in the forefront to oversee the government's response to the protests sends the wrong message.
“That runs the risk of an extreme escalation of violence,” Smith said. “What we saw yesterday was extremely disturbing.” He added: “Treating this as a war I think is an enormous mistake. Putting the military out front drives home the message that this is a war.”
Smith will hold a hearing next week with Pentagon leadership to hear more details on what the military’s role has been and what it will be going forward. Military helicopters were also spotted around Washington to disperse crowds peacefully gathering after a 7 p.m. curfew.
The FBI on Monday put out a request for information leading to the arrest of “violent instigators who are exploiting legitimate, peaceful protests and engaging in violations of federal law.” DHS circulated an intelligence memorandum warning that anarchists could exploit ongoing protests, Politico reported on Monday.
Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, thanked his members for their efforts related to the unrest.
“As our nation experiences unprecedented emotional strain, law enforcement officers including federal agents, have stood their ground to protect cities, peaceful protests and the residents that live in these cities,” Cosme said. “They have performed courageously through this period of uncertainty.”