Attorney General Bill Barr and the directors of the FBI, ATF, DEA, Bureau of Prisons, and U.S. Marshals Service provided an update on the law enforcement activities of the agencies in response to the riots in major American cities. While he noted that many of the more violent riots seem to have subsided, the federal law enforcement agencies are still on alert and ready to respond if necessary.
All the leaders delineated the right of Americans to peaceably assemble and their duty to protect those doing so. The concern is that violent groups are using these peaceful protests as cover to incite violence. According to Attorney General Barr:
While many have peacefully expressed their anger and grief, others have hijacked the protests to engage in lawlessness. Violent rioting, arson, looting, of businesses, and public property, assaults on law enforcement officers and innocent people, and even the murder of a federal agent. Such senseless acts of anarchy are not exercises of First Amendment rights. They are crimes designed to terrify fellow citizens and intimidate communities.
Barr shared that 51 arrests have been made to date, and investigations are ongoing for numerous incidents across the nation. He also shared that groups inciting violence and committing crimes come from multiple groups and even include foreign actors. The FBI National Threat Assessment Center is also engaged in taking tips, evaluating the threats, and passing them on.
Some startling context was given by Regina Lombardo, acting director of ATF. They are investigating 847 arsons, 76 explosive incidents, and have responded to 73 federally licensed firearms dealers who were looted. They are also working shooting scenes and entering shell casings into the national database. When processing scenes and evidence, the agency is taking DNA to help solve these violent crimes.
During the question period, Attorney General Barr corrected the record on several fronts. First, he explained his role in coordinating security for federal property inside Washington, D.C. It is separate and distinct from the mayor’s duty in the rest of the city, and National Guard patrolling city streets are under the direction of local law enforcement, not the federal task force.
When questioned about his enlargement of the perimeter around the White House on Monday, he clarified this was a security decision based on the events of Sunday night. In the perimeter around the White House, significant rioting had taken place. Injuries to federal officers numbered 114 with 22 hospitalizations for serious head injuries. Many of the projectiles came from rioters ripping up the bricks in Lafayette Park and hurling them at officers.
The decision was not based on President Trump wanting to go to the St. Johns Church. Barr was not even aware that was going to happen when the decision was made. The group of protestors was asked to relocate to the new perimeter three times using bullhorns and became violent again, hurling projectiles at officers. This is when other tactical and non-lethal force was used to move the perimeter.
The reporters kept mentioning the peaceful protestors at that scene. They may want to consider that peaceful protestors would have heeded the perimeter move. This is not at all unusual in crowd control and was a move to one block away from the White House.
Because the attorney general mentioned antifa in his opening remarks, a reporter asked him about the arrest of three Boogaloo Bois, stating this is a far-right group. That is a little simplistic as members don’t espouse a single ideology. For once, even CNN got it right:
Boogaloo members appear to hold conflicting ideological views with some identifying as anarchists and others rejecting formal titles. Some pockets of the group have espoused white supremacy while others reject it. But they have at least two things in common: an affinity for toting around guns in public and a “boogaloo” rallying cry, which is commonly viewed as code for another US civil war.
Barr referred to the groups they were dealing with as a “witch’s brew” from various ideologies and some lone wolves. He said he did not want to get too specific because the intelligence is coming in and the FBI is coordinating the effort. the attorney general added that there is a lot of disinformation out there as well. People are posing as members of other groups and often finding out who, if anyone, they are actually associated with takes some digging.
FBI Director Wray added that there has been ongoing tracking of violent anarchist extremist groups like antifa during his tenure at the FBI. This work is done through the Joint Terrorism Task Force structure which includes partnerships between the federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Wray added that it doesn’t matter what ideology these groups subscribe to. If they are committing acts of violence they will be investigated and prosecuted if federal statutes apply.
Identification of officers was also discussed. Federal agents and officers from the Bureau of Prisons do not wear the same identifying information on their uniforms as local police forces do. However, there have been no directives for officers not to identify themselves and who they work for as was reported.
Attorney General Barr closed by saying the perimeter had been pulled back because while protests are continuing, the majority of the violence seems to have receded. He added that the curfew had been abolished as it seems order is now restored. However, the federal government is maintaining enough resources on hand should violent episodes occur, to secure federal property and protect the citizenry.