Trump and Barr announce “surge” of hundreds of federal officers to Chicago and Albuquerque

Mayors across the country say "federal law enforcement is being deployed for political purposes"

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published July 23, 2020 11:10AM (EDT)

U.S. President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr speak in the Oval Office before signing an executive order related to regulating social media (Doug MIlls-Pool/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr speak in the Oval Office before signing an executive order related to regulating social media (Doug MIlls-Pool/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday announced that the Department of Justice would "surge" federal officers to Chicago and Albuquerque despite pushback from city leaders.

Federal officers from Barr's agency and Department of Homeland Security have been filmed snatching demonstrators into unmarked vans, tear-gassing the so-called Wall of Moms and beating a peaceful Navy veteran, ostensibly to protect federal buildings from vandalism.

The Justice Department has separately deployed hundreds of federal agents to Kansas City to "fight the sudden surge of violent crime" in what the agency called "Operation Legend," named after 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was fatally shot in the city on June 29. Barr claimed the operation has already led to 200 arrests, even though city officials say that is not even close to true. Kansas City Mayor Quiton Lucas said the operation has yielded only one arrest.

Trump and Barr on Wednesday announced that they would expand Operation Legend and "immediately surge" 200 federal officers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Agency; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Homeland Security; and U.S. Marshals Service to Chicago and 35 to Albuquerque. The administration will also provide $61 million to cities to hire more police officers.

Trump said the operation was meant to "answer the pleas of those crying for justice and crying for help" despite city officials warning that the deployment could spark more violence. Without providing any evidence, Barr linked the recent uptick in crime to protests over police brutality.

"Other cities need help," Trump said. "They need it badly. They should call. They should want it. They are too proud, or they are too political to do that."

Lucas on Wednesday rejected the claim that the violence was linked to protests.

"To try to not just dog whistle, but frankly dog bark, about racial politics — it's to try to divide our community and our country," Lucas told reporters. "It's totally unnecessary, and it doesn't help us solve a single violent crime incident."

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city would not tolerate actions like those seen in Portland.

"I've been very clear that we welcome actual partnership," the Democrat said on Tuesday. "But we do not welcome dictatorship, we do not welcome authoritarianism and we do not welcome unconstitutional arrest and detainment of our residents. That is something I will not tolerate."

U.S. Attorney Timothy Garrison said the officers involved in Operation Legend would be clearly identifiable, unlike those seen in Portland.

"These agents won't be patrolling the streets," he said. "They won't replace or usurp the authority of local officers."

Oregon state officials filed a lawsuit in hope of forcing the feds out of the city, where tensions and violence have escalated since their deployment.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham vowed that she would sue as well if federal officers violated any resident's rights.

"If federal forces violate the rights of any New Mexican, if federal forces overstep their authority in any manner whatsoever, if there is any manner of clandestine authoritarian attempt to usurp local or state law enforcement operations in our state, the attorney general and I will not hesitate to litigate against the federal government and hold the Trump administration responsible to the fullest extent of the law," she said in a statement.

A group of 14 mayors, including Lightfoot and Lucas, sent a letter to Barr and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf on Tuesday expressing their "deep concern and objection to the deployment of federal forces in U.S. cities."

"The unilateral deployment of these forces into American cities is unprecedented and violates fundamental constitutional protections and tenets of federalism," the letter said. "Deployment of federal forces in the streets of our communities has not been requested nor is it acceptable."

The letter accused Trump of pushing the federal deployment in a bid to improve his re-election chances.

"It is concerning that federal law enforcement is being deployed for political purposes. The president and his administration continually attack local leadership and amplify false and divisive rhetoric purely for campaign fodder," the mayors wrote. "Their words and actions have created an environment of fear and mistrust."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

MORE FROM Igor Derysh