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Attorney General William Barr speaks during an event about 'Operation Legend' in the East Room of the White House July 22, 2020. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

'Abuse of Power': Trump and Barr to Deploy More Federal Agents to US Cities

"In case you were wondering, this is precisely what fascism looks like."

Eoin Higgins

President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr announced Wednesday afternoon that the federal government is deploying U.S. Department of Homeland Security agents to Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, claiming the move is a response to criminal unrest. 

"The FBI, ATF, DEA, U.S. Marshals service, and Homeland Security will together be sending hundreds of skilled law enforcement officers to Chicago to help drive down violent crime," the president said during prepared remarks at the White House.

Trump and Barr both tied rises in violent crime in U.S. cities to recent protests for Black lives and against police brutality that erupted after the police killing of George Floyd in May. Neither man provided any evidence to back up those claims.

The deployment announcement was largely panned by critics, who called the effort another sign of Trump's authoritarian approach to the presidency.

"In case you were wondering, this is precisely what fascism looks like," tweeted Los Angeles Times columnist David Lazarus.

During Wednesday's press conference on the expansion of the "Operation Legend" program, which began in Kansas City, Barr and acting secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf sought to distinguish the program from the ongoing clashes between DHS agents and protesters in Portland, Oregon. 

But those assurances will have to do a lot to overcome the skepticism of local officials, especially as the number of agents expected to be deployed under the program is still unclear. 

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot warned on Tuesday that a Portland-style federal deployment would only make unrest in the city worse. 

"What I understand at this point—and I caveat that—is that the Trump administration is not going to foolishly deploy unnamed agents to the streets of Chicago," said Lightfoot.

According to the Associated Press:

DHS officers have already been dispatched to Portland, Oregon, and other localities to protect federal property and monuments as Trump has lambasted efforts by protesters to knock down Confederate statutes. Trump has linked the growing violence in the streets with protests over racial injustice, though criminal justice experts say the spike defies easy explanation, pointing to the unprecedented moment the country is living through—with a pandemic that has killed more than 140,000 Americans, historic unemployment, stay-at-home orders, a mass reckoning over race and police brutality, intense stress and even the weather.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) on Wednesday led 116 of his colleagues in a letter (pdf) demanding Barr and Wolf answer their questions on the ongoing Portland deployment and any planned expansion of federal law enforcement programs in U.S. cities.

"This is not legitimate law enforcement under our Constitution but a shocking slide into authoritarianism and police state tactics," the letter reads, adding that "these new tactics are an outrageous assault on the liberties of the people and the police powers and political sovereignty of the states."

Trump and Barr's announcement follows over a week of speculation that federal agents would enter U.S. cities despite local resistance. 

Former DHS spokesperson David Lapan told Politico Tuesday that he fears the ramifications of the president's new move to use federal agents for domestic law enforcement.

"It's overly militaristic, it's being seen in partisan political terms, and it's usurping the authorities of the local law enforcement and elected officials," said Lapan.

 Advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) tweeted that the DOJ's use of federal agents for Trump's political goals was a clear reason to impeach the attorney general.

"Turning federal forces against racial justice protestors is what abuse of power looks like," CREW said. "Congress should waste no time in impeaching AG Barr before he goes further in carrying out President Trump's racist agenda."


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