News & Politics

AG Barr: 'Since When Is It Okay to Burn Down a Federal Court?'

William Barr (Matt McClain/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

On Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr testified before the House Judiciary Committee, explaining the rationale behind sending federal law enforcement to defend federal buildings under attack by antifa rioters, such as the federal courthouse in Portland. During the hearing, Democrats accused Barr of inciting the violence by sending federal officers to protect the buildings, and of using federal officers as a political prop for Trump’s reelection. Barr condemned Democrats for ignoring or excusing the violence.

“What makes me concerned for the country is, this is the first time in my memory that the leaders of one of our great two political parties, the Democratic Party, are not coming out and condemning mob violence and the attack on federal courts,” the attorney general said. “Why can’t we just say violence against federal courts has to stop? Could we hear something like that?”

Earlier in the hearing, he had defended using federal officers to protect the federal courthouse in Portland.

He argued that the federal government has a duty to protect “federal property, and specifically U.S. courthouses, which are the heart of federal property in all 93 jurisdictions in the United States. And we have the obligation to protect federal courts.”

“Federal courts are under attack. Since when is it okay to burn down a federal court?” Barr asked. “If someone went down the street to the [E. Barrett] Prettyman Court here, that beautiful courthouse we have right at the bottom of the hill, and started breaking windows and firing industrial-grade fireworks in to start a fire, throw kerosene balloons in and start fires in the court, is that okay?”

“Is that okay, now?” Barr demanded. “No, U.S. marshals have a duty to stop that and defend the courthouse and that’s what we are doing in Portland. We are at the courthouse, defending the courthouse, we’re not out looking for trouble.”

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) listed various weapons rioters used in attacking the courthouse and federal officers: “rifles, explosives, knives, saws, sledgehammers, tasers, slingshots, rocks, bricks, lasers…”

“You have missed some things but that’s a good list,” Barr replied. He mentioned “powerful slingshots with ball bearings” and the use of “lasers to blind the marshals.” He also mentioned that rioters start fires at the courthouse and “when the marshals come out to try to deal with the fire, they’re assaulted.”

Jerry Nadler Accuses AG Barr of Using ‘Law Enforcement as a Prop’ in Trump’s Reelection Campaign

Barr was correct to defend the use of federal officers to protect federal buildings and he was also right to emphasize the violent attacks against the courthouse and the federal officers protecting it. Last month, Portland Police shared a video of the kind of violence officers faced at that time, including industrial-grade mortar fireworks shot at police officers. Federal agents have also suffered such attacks.

On Monday night, rioters set off a bomb at the courthouse. Police said the explosion could be heard and felt from a block away.

Do Democrats really think this all-out assault on federal courthouses is okay? Do they seriously maintain that this represents a “peaceful protest”?

Tragically, it seems the answer to those questions is “yes.”

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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