House Democrats on Sunday sent a letter to the inspectors general of the Justice Department and Homeland Security Department requesting an investigation into the Trump administration’s use of federal law officers to suppress anti-racism protests.
In a letter to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz and DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, the leaders of three House committees ― Jerry Nadler of the Judiciary Committee; Bennie Thompson of Homeland Security; and Carolyn Maloney of Oversight ― said they were “increasingly alarmed” by the situation.
The departments have “increasingly abused emergency authorities to justify the use of force against Americans exercising their right to peaceful assembly,” the Democrats wrote.
The letter comes amid weeks of nationwide protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. Massive demonstrations demanding justice in Floyd’s case, as well as for the many other instances of police brutality, have erupted in every state. Some cities have seen more than 50 consecutive days of protests.
The protests have grown into a nationwide reckoning on racism, including forceful demands that monuments honoring the Confederacy be removed.
President Donald Trump has condemned some of the protesters as “anarchists” and “lowlifes” and vowed last month to use military force against those engaging in civil unrest. He also signed an executive order directing the Justice Department to prosecute anyone who damages a federal monument.
As anti-racism protests continued in Portland, Oregon, last week, federal law enforcement agents driving unmarked vans were recorded detaining people during late-night demonstrations. The officers were seen in videos posted to social media dressed in green military fatigues with “police” patches but no agency affiliation on clear display.
“The Administration’s insistence on deploying these forces over the objections of state and local authorities suggest that these tactics have little to do with public safety, but more to do with political gamesmanship,” the House Democrats wrote in their letter Sunday.
By deploying these federal forces, Attorney General William Barr and acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf are suppressing First Amendment protected activities, according to the letter.
HuffPost reached out to both inspectors general’s offices for comment, but did not immediately hear back.
Trump on Sunday appeared to defend his administration’s decision to deploy federal officers to Portland, claiming the city’s leadership had “lost control of the anarchists and agitators.”
“We must protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE,” the president tweeted. “These were not merely protesters, these are the real deal!”
The House Democrats said they supported the U.S. attorney for Oregon’s request to the DHS inspector general for an investigation into the incidents in Portland, but said their concerns stretch beyond the northwestern city.
In their letter, the House Democrats also pointed out that federal authorities used “chemical agents” and “rubber bullets” to disperse peaceful protesters outside the White House in June so Trump could stage a photo-op at a nearby church.
“This is a matter of utmost urgency,” the House Democrats said in their letter. “Citizens are concerned that the Administration has deployed a secret police force, not to investigate crimes but to intimidate individuals it views as political adversaries, and that the use of these tactics will proliferate throughout the country.”