A memo from the deputy director of the FBI reportedly declared anti-racism protests following George Floyd‘s death a “national crisis” and suggested protesters be arrested under a law from the 1940s, a signal that Trump administration officials were alarmed and uncertain about the demonstrations.
The New York Times on Tuesday obtained the memo from David Bowdich, the No. 2 leader at the bureau, which called for officials to investigate “violent protesters, instigators” and “inciters,” collect information with “robust social media exploitation teams” and examine what appeared to be “highly organized behavior.”
Bowdich reportedly wrote in the memo that the FBI could possibly use the Hobbs Act to charge protesters. The law was enacted in 1946 to combat racketeering in labor groups and is frequently used by the Justice Department in connection to cases of public corruption or commercial disputes.
“When 9/11 occurred, our folks did not quibble about whether there was danger ahead for them,” Bowdich wrote, according to the Times, telling aides not to be deterred by the coronavirus pandemic. “They ran head-on into peril.”
“Think differently, out of the box,” he added.
The Times noted that the June 2 memo came one day after protesters were forcefully removed from Lafayette Square in front of the White House so that President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden hits Trump’s ‘law and order’ message: He’s trying to ‘scare the devil’ out of people Pelosi bashes Barr after testimony: ‘He was like a blob’ and ‘henchman’ for Trump Schumer: Trump should want COVID-19 deal to help GOP election chances MORE could visit the historic St. John’s Church and pose for photos.
The church had been set on fire as protests raged in Washington, D.C., Minneapolis and cities across the country following the death of Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died in Minneapolis police custody after a now-former officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
The newspaper reported that domestic intelligence agents were uncertain about the root cause of the protests.
Another internal memo from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intelligence officers reportedly indicated that the Trump administration did not understand the demonstrations, even as agents were deployed to stop unrest in Portland, Ore., which has seen weeks of unrest.
This second memo, dated July 16, described how “anarchist extremists” had committed crimes in the Pacific Northwest for years and reportedly stated that there was historical context for the “sustained violence against government personnel and facilities,” according to the Times.
It laid out a timeline for violence in the city dating back to 2015, but the memo reportedly stated that intelligence officials have “low confidence in our assessment” when it comes to the present day.
“We lack insight into the motives for the most recent attacks,” it read.
At least two of the incidents listed on the timeline presented in the intelligence briefing memo involved “white supremacist extremists,” according to the newspaper.
Black Lives Matter protests have continued to dominate downtown Portland since the end of May. The majority of the protests have centered around the Hatfield Federal Courthouse, resulting in damage to the building.
The damage prompted acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfACLU urges court to hold federal agents in Portland in contempt Trump to review DACA, allow holders to extend for one year Former DHS spokesman rips federal agents’ presence in Portland MORE to deploy DHS agents to the city in late June to help protect the courthouse and other federal buildings.
The move has been highly criticized, especially by Democratic lawmakers. The conduct of the federal officers has also been called into question after reports surfaced that agents clad in unidentifiable military fatigues picked up and detained protesters in unmarked vans.
Attorney General William BarrBill BarrPelosi bashes Barr after testimony: ‘He was like a blob’ and ‘henchman’ for Trump Lawmakers, public bid farewell to John Lewis Democrats blister Barr during tense hearing MORE told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that unrest in the city 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,” Barr said. “To state what should be obvious, peaceful protesters do not throw explosives into federal courthouses.”
The Trump administration is in early talks with the Oregon governor’s office to remove federal officers from Portland who have been in the city since late June to protect the federal courthouse, which has become a focal point for Black Lives Matter protests, a senior White House official told The Associated Press.