Defense Secretary Mark Esper has expressed concern within the Trump administration that federal law enforcement personnel President Donald Trump has dispatched to Portland, Oregon, to protect monuments and federal buildings may be confused with military troops, according to a Defense Department official.
Images of armed federal agents wearing military-style uniforms and riot gear devoid of identifying agency markings have raised concerns among many Americans who fear Trump’s response to the civil unrest too closely resembles an authoritarian crackdown using the military.
“We saw this take place back in June,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon. “Some law enforcement make them appear military in appearance.”
“The secretary has expressed concern of this within the administration,” Hoffman said. “We want a system where people can tell the difference.”
The concerns stem in part from the president’s activation of National Guard troops to help local law enforcement last month with protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death while in police custody in Minnesota. National Guard forces were present – but did not participate – when police forcibly cleared Lafayette Square of protesters in June shortly before Trump walked from the White House through the park for a photo op in front of a nearby church. The Army investigated the D.C. National Guard’s use of helicopters for “show of force” low-altitude flybys to disperse protesters during protests elsewhere.
Hoffman said Esper had not engaged directly with acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf or anyone else within that department about the appearance of the federal agents, who are reportedly from specialized units within the U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Trump has centered his ire at Portland amid nationwide protests, tweeting last week that politicians running the largely political progressive city “are just fine with 50 days of anarchy.”
Trump later tweeted, “We are trying to help Portland, not hurt it. Their leadership has, for months, lost control of the anarchists and agitators. They are missing in action. We must protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE. These were not merely protesters, these are the real deal!”
He has reportedly considered deploying federal forces to similar situations in other cities, including Chicago.