Heavily armed federal agents wearing no badges or identifying markings have been patrolling the streets of Washington, D.C., as part of President Donald Trump’s crackdown on anti-racism protests.
As part of Trump’s bid to “dominate” protests that have swept US cities in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a variety of military forces and federal law enforcement officials have been deployed.
Secret Service agents, D.C. police and US military taking part in the operation are usually easy to identify. But they been joined by federal officials, many with no identity.
5PM WHITE HOUSE — These are the unidentified DOJ officers holding the perimeter at 15th and H Streets.They won’t tell the public to whom they report exactly…It’s generating HUGE frustration here #GeorgeFloyd @WUSA9 pic.twitter.com/GOSbeyplLb
— Mike Valerio (@MikevWUSA) June 3, 2020
Wearing helmets, plain uniforms, and carrying weapons or riot shields, the members of the unit refused to identify themselves when asked by reporters what branch of the federal government or military they represent.
They were seen on Tuesday and Wednesday. D.C. operated a curfew both days, on 7 p.m. Tuesday and 11 p.m. Wednesday.
When asked by Mother Jones’ Dan Friedman, one told him that they were with the “Department of Justice.” That department oversees agencies like the FBI but has no direct enforcement personnel of its own.
Asked who they’re with, these guys say only that they’re with “The Department of Justice.” pic.twitter.com/ciVDtP8ndk
— Dan Friedman (@dfriedman33) June 2, 2020
As the identity of the mysterious units was discussed on social media, some compared them to the “little green men” Russia’s President Vladimir Putin sent to annex Crimea in 2014 — who were wearing no insignia identifying them as members of the Russian military.
There is no generic DOJ police force, obviously. No badges, no identifying info, refusal to say who they represent – it’s like Russia’s little green men have taken over the nation’s capital. https://t.co/2DFOxcgd1M
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) June 2, 2020
Some observers noted that details on their uniforms indicated that they were members of the Bureau of Prisons, or BOP.
Closeups. A lot of them are federal Bureau of Prisons officers. SORT stands for Special Operations Response Team, a BOP tactical unit. Probably based in Texas going off the flag patches and “FCC Beaumont.” pic.twitter.com/WAQDtuiUik
— Alejandro Alvarez (@aletweetsnews) June 3, 2020
The agency later released a statement to ABC News, explaining that the men were members of a BOP Crisis Management unit (who are involved in quelling prison riots).
The statement said they were not wearing “BOP specific clothing as they are serving a broader mission.”
Just In: NBC’s Mike Kosnar obtains a statement from the Bureau of Prisons about their un-badged officers in DC. It’s long so I screen-shotted it, and their previous statement, sent upon their deployment pic.twitter.com/BbTdJNDpBg
— Garrett Haake (@GarrettHaake) June 4, 2020
Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a law professor at the University of Dayton, told The Hill that unlike the military, federal law enforcement agents aren’t always required to wear identifiable uniforms.
“As a general rule, members of the Army (Active Duty, National Guard, and Reserves) must wear an identifiable uniform,” Hoffmeister said. “The folks you see without an identifiable uniform are primarily federal law enforcement who don’t have the same requirements.”
Law enforcement experts said that it was extremely unusual for officers to be operating incognito, and that members of the public had no way to telling whether they were genuine, which could generate confusion and chaos during unrest.
Former New York City police commissioner William Bratton, in comments to The Washington Post, described the development as “very concerning.”
“If those officers engage in any type of misbehavior during the time that they are there representing the federal government, how are you to identify them?” Bratton said. “What is the need for anonymity in controlling crowd demonstrations?”
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