CULPEPER STAR-EXPONENT, CLINT SCHEMMER
Virginia’s two U.S. senators aim to block the Trump administration from deploying federal agents as paramilitary forces against Americans.
Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden in introducing the Preventing Authoritarian Policing Tactics on America’s Streets Act, a freestanding bill and also an amendment to the defense spending bill that the Senate passed Thursday by a big bipartisan margin.
The Senate acted after a week during which heavily armed federal forces, without identifiable uniforms and sometimes using unmarked vehicles, grabbed protesters off the streets of Portland, Oregon.
The federal forces, led on the scene by the acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, have deployed munitions and tear gas against protesters.
“What we’ve seen in Portland these last two weeks is an outrage and should never be accepted in the U.S.,” the senators said in a statement Thursday. “President Trump is using completely unjustified and unconstitutional intimidation tactics against American citizens over the objections of state and local officials. This bill makes it clear that unidentified officers cannot trample on the constitutional rights of peaceful protesters.”
Their legislation would:
—Require individual and agency identification on uniforms of officers and prevent unmarked vehicles from being used in arrests.
—Limit federal agents’ crowd control activities to federal property and its immediate vicinity, unless their presence is specifically requested by both the mayor and governor.
—Require disclosure on an agency website within 24 hours of deployments specifying the number of personnel and purposes of deployment.
—Make arrests in violation of these rules unlawful.
Earlier, Kaine successfully introduced a defense-bill amendment to prevent use of military funds or personnel against American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights.
Independently, U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger this week demanded answers from Attorney General William Barr and Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf about the unidentified federal officers deployed in Portland despite the objections of state and local officials. She was among 117 House members querying Barr and Wolf
Last month, Barr ignored the request of Spanberger and more than 120 House colleagues for information about unidentified U.S. officers deployed during police-brutality protests in Washington, D.C., the Central Virginia congresswoman’s office said on Wednesday.
“It is now apparent that no U.S. city or town will be safe from these dubious tactics and that the Washington, D.C., deployment may have been a dry run for deployment to other cities,” Spanberger and her colleagues wrote. “… The federal officers in Portland are unidentifiable and therefore remain unaccountable for any violations of citizens’ constitutional rights. Portland is apparently not the last place citizens and public officials will encounter such deployments as suggested in a recently leaked Customs and Border Patrol memorandum dated July 1, 2020, which states that ‘resources (have been) deployed in several states.’ ”
Spanberger, a former federal law enforcement officer, and her colleagues continued: “This is not legitimate law enforcement under our Constitution but a shocking slide into authoritarianism and police state tactics. … But these new tactics are an outrageous assault on the liberties of the people and the police powers and political sovereignty of the states. The deployment of roving units of secret police under the control of the President is an absolute affront to the Bill of Rights, which vests inviolable civil rights and liberties in the people and core police powers in the states — not a tyrannical and overweening federal government.”
On Tuesday, the House passed a defense bill that includes an amendment supported by Spanberger and led by U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA-06) that would require any federal law-enforcement officer to be clearly identified by name and agency on their uniform.