From the earliest days of the recent protests against police brutality and racism, some top federal law enforcement officials viewed the demonstrators with alarm and called for an aggressive federal response that two months later continues to escalate.
A memo from the deputy director of the F.B.I., dated June 2, demanded an immediate mobilization as protests gathered after George Floyd’s death while he was in police custody a week earlier. David L. Bowdich, the F.B.I.’s No. 2, declared the situation “a national crisis,” and wrote that in addition to investigating “violent protesters, instigators” and “inciters,” bureau leaders should collect information with “robust social media exploitation teams” and examine what appeared to be “highly organized behavior.”
Mr. Bowdich suggested that the bureau could make use of the Hobbs Act, put into place in the 1940s to punish racketeering in labor groups, to charge the protesters.
“When 9/11 occurred, our folks did not quibble about whether there was danger ahead for them,” he wrote, telling aides that the continuing coronavirus pandemic should not hold them back. “They ran head-on into peril.”
The memo came after a weekend in which protests gave way to looting in some cities and the day after federal agents forcibly cleared peaceful protesters from the White House so President Trump could walk through Lafayette Square. Since then, the federal response has become a focal point of the Trump administration and of Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign. The Bowdich memo suggests agencies need little prodding to adopt the president’s forceful posture.
“Think differently, out of the box,” the memo demanded.
On Tuesday, Attorney General William P. Barr took the same tone, saying strife in Portland, Ore., was not a protest at all, but “an assault on the government of the United States.”
“Remarkably, the response from many in the media and local elected offices to this organized assault has been to blame the federal government,” Mr. Barr told the House Judiciary Committee. “To state what should be obvious, peaceful protesters do not throw explosives into federal courthouses.”
Privately, domestic intelligence agents are uncertain about the root causes of those actions. Another internal government memo, from Department of Homeland Security intelligence officers, indicated that even as federal agents in camouflage deployed to quell the unrest in Portland, the administration had little understanding of what it was facing. [Continue reading…]