We cannot tolerate an American secret police.
I will be introducing legislation to require uniformed federal officers performing any domestic security duties to clearly identify what military branch or agency they represent. pic.twitter.com/2kaFAlWUow
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) June 4, 2020
Just a few hundred feet north of the White House on Wednesday afternoon, armed agents of the federal government, dressed in a patchwork of colors and protective gear, stared down peaceful protesters demonstrating for Black lives. Yet what was perhaps most alarming was what was not visible on many of the officers: any insignia revealing their identity or even the name of the agency they work for.
Some members of the Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI stationed throughout downtown Washington wore outfits that at least identified their agency, even if they weren’t wearing name tags that identified them personally. But the police line just north of the White House on Wednesday afternoon featured a patchwork of colors and agents wearing generic outfits ― sometimes what appeared to be just T-shirts under their protective gear that gave no indication of even their department or military branch.
Attorney General William Barr is leading this aggressive response that has brought in an alphabet soup of law enforcement agencies to guard federal property and suppress unrest: FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the U.S. Marshals; and the federal Bureau of Prisons. Those Department of Justice forces join Homeland Security officers, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, the Capitol Police, the Federal Protective Service, the Secret Service and the District of Columbia National Guard.
Bringing in so many law enforcement agencies has the potential to create problems ― each has its own culture, practices and command structures. Allowing federal law enforcement to operate with anonymity all but eliminates accountability when force is inevitably used against demonstrators. Critics say it also breeds government distrust and is reminiscent of authoritarian regimes. [Continue reading…]
Barr’s willingness to weather controversy on the president’s behalf has not only caused consternation among some former friends and allies; it has given rise to considerable speculation about his motives. Why would a grandfather in semiretirement, who had already reached the pinnacle of his profession, sign up for this? Some wonder if Barr might still be hungry for influence, having been attorney general for only 17 months the first time. Others wonder whether he spent too much time watching Fox News during the Obama years and came out the other side an ideologue. And there are others who look at Barr’s support for Trump and see more consistency than contradiction. Barr, they say, hasn’t changed his values. Rather, he has found in Trump the perfect vehicle with which to move them forward.
“Those who think he’s a tool of Donald Trump are missing the point,” says Stuart Gerson, who led the Justice Department’s civil division during Barr’s first tour and then succeeded him, serving as acting attorney general during the first three months of Bill Clinton’s presidency. “If anything, it’s the other way around. Barr is vastly more intelligent than Donald Trump. What Trump gives Bill Barr is a canvas upon which to paint. Bill has longstanding views about how society should be organized, which can now be manifested and acted upon to a degree that they never could have before.”
As far as what Barr is hoping to do with his canvas, Gerson says he is committed to the “hierarchical” and “authoritarian” premise that “a top-down ordering of society will produce a more moral society.” That isn’t too far away from what Barr himself articulated in a 2019 speech at the University of Notre Dame. In Barr’s view, piety lay at the heart of the founders’ model of self-government, which depended on religious values to restrain human passions. “The founding generation were Christians,” Barr said. Goodness flows from “a transcendent Supreme Being” through “individual morality” to form “the social order.” Reason and experience merely serve to confirm the infallible divine law. That law, he said, is under threat from “militant secularists,” including “so-called progressives,” who call on the state “to mitigate the social costs of personal misconduct and irresponsibility.” At their feet, Barr places mental illness, drug overdoses, violence and suicide. All these things, he said, are getting worse. All are “the bitter results of the new secular age.” [Continue reading…]