Thursday, July 09, 2020

Federal plan to control D.C. protests taps 7,600 personnel

Jun 06. 2020
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on March 4, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Stefani Reynolds.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on March 4, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Stefani Reynolds.
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By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Tony Capaccio · NATIONAL, COURTSLAW, NATIONAL-SECURITY 

The federal plan to contain continuing protests in Washington, D.C. currently employs about 7,600 civilian law enforcement, National Guard and active-duty Army personnel stationed just outside the city, an array of forces Attorney General William Barr and others say is justified to defend the capital at a time of unrest.

An internal document compiled for the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Thursday and seen by Bloomberg News provides the most detailed breakdown of federal force numbers and locations as the government seeks to contain protests after the killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, at the hands of Minneapolis Police.

The document, which isn't classified, shows 2,950 law enforcement personnel from U.S. agencies working alongside 2,935 National Guard troops, bolstered by 1,704 active-duty troops who are currently stationed outside the capital at Andrews Air Force Base, Fort Belvoir and Fort Myer.

The total deployments include 500 personnel each from the U.S. Capitol Police, Washington Police Department and U.S. Secret Service; 445 Bureau of Prisons staff, 168 members of the U.S. Marshals Service, 160 Drug Enforcement Agency employees, 80 U.S. Park Police and 32 FBI agents.

The document is titled "Domestic Unrest -- Washington D.C. Overview." It was prepared Thursday by a division of the Joint Staff that monitors homeland defense issues for Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

The numbers come to light as former Defense Secretary James Mattis and others have decried what they see as the militarization of the law enforcement response designed to keep the peace following several nights of demonstrations, some of which turned destructive as protesters broke windows and sprayed graffiti on federal monuments. And it follows the Trump administration's decision to clear peaceful protesters from a park in front of the White House on Monday so the president could stand before a historic church holding a Bible.

The active-duty forces stationed outside Washington would be deployed into the city only as part of a contingency plan if President Donald Trump decided to invoke the Insurrection Act, an 1807 law that allows the U.S. military to be put on the streets for law enforcement purposes. Trump signaled several days ago that he might invoke the act. But violence among protesters has declined in recent days, leading Defense Secretary Mark Esper to say Wednesday that he opposed the use of the law, and some active-duty forces are beginning to return to their home bases.

Trump, too, has now said he believes the National Guard can handle the protests, both in Washington and around the nation.

On Thursday, Esper ordered back to their home base at Fort Bragg in North Carolina about 700 soldiers assigned to an 82nd Airborne division task force, according to a defense official. The remaining active-duty personnel, mostly Military Police and engineering units, remain in the Washington area for now.

Washington's Mayor Muriel Bowser cited the increasingly peaceful protests in asking Trump to "withdraw all extraordinary federal law enforcement and military presence." In a letter she posted on Twitter Friday, Bowser said the deployment of federal personnel is "inflaming demonstrators and adding to the grievances of those who, by and large, are peacefully protesting for change."

The Pentagon document provides a snapshot of the wide array of agencies that have been called on to help the federal government maintain control of what, over the weekend, was an increasingly violent situation at some of the protests in the U.S. capital. Because Washington isn't a state, the federal government has greater leeway to become engaged in the law enforcement response without having to rely on permission from governors.

A Defense Department official said the document is part of an effort to ensure top officials are aware of the situation in cities affected by unrest. A Justice Department official said that about 3,000 department staff have been activated for the protests but not all are deployed. Both officials asked not to be identified discussing internal matters.

Protesters in Washington have questioned why some personnel deployed in the capital aren't wearing badges that clearly identify their agencies or their names, an issue Bowser also cited in her letter to Trump. Barr said on Thursday that many agents in the federal system don't normally wear badges with their names and that many personnel aren't accustomed to responding to civil unrest.

"In the Department of Justice we do not really have large numbers of units that are trained to deal with civil disturbances," Barr said. "I could understand why some of these individuals simply wouldn't want to talk to people about who they are, if that in fact was the case."

Sen. Chris Murphy. D-Conn., Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., proposed legislation Thursday that would require law enforcement officers and members of the Armed Forces to clearly identify themselves and their agency or service while they are engaged in crowd control or arresting individuals involved in civil disobedience or protests within the U.S.

National Guard forces on Thursday included 1,724 troops from nine states, with an additional 1,353 personnel planned, according to the document. The biggest contingent currently comes from South Carolina, with 446 National Guard, but a deployment of 1,055 from Tennessee is planned, the document says.

Among the active-duty forces listed as on call from their home base of Fort Myer, abutting Washington, are 432 members of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, or "Old Guard." It's the Army's oldest active unit, whose members escort the president and are best known for 24-hour vigils over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Active-duty troops from the 82nd Airborne and other units are also stationed at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith has demanded that Esper provide details about whether active-duty troops have been told to prepare for duty in the capital and what weapons they would be armed with.

Barr said Thursday that he was assigned by Trump with oversight of the federal response to protests that became increasingly violent over the weekend.

"This is the federal city. It's the seat of the federal government," Barr said at a news conference in Washington. "It is the responsibility of the federal government to render that protection."

 

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