Defense Secretary Mark Esper is concerned about how federal agents are identifying themselves, as camo-clad law enforcement rebuff nation-wide protests this summer and confuse the public about the role the military is playing domestically.
Esper wants the public to be able to differentiate between the police and military personnel. His concerns were raised as part of an after-action review currently underway that is looking at the National Guard’s response to protests this summer, chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Tuesday.
“That will be something we’ll talk [about] to those doing the review and then maybe have a conversation with the attorney general, his team and Sec. [Chad] Wolf at DHS [Department of Homeland Security],” Hoffman told reporters at the Pentagon. “But I don’t have a timeline on that.”
The latest media attention has centered around protests in Portland, Oregon, where federal police have been videoed detaining demonstrators without identifying themselves and placing people in unmarked vehicles.
Officers from the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Border Patrol Tactical Unit have been sent to Portland to protect federal property during the protests against racism and police brutality, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.
In one instance, captured in a video seen about 10 million times, a former Navy Seabee had his hand broken by federal officers.
A former Seabee attending the protest in Portland was attacked by federal officers. They broke his hand and pepper sprayed him.
Neither the National Guard, nor the active-duty military, are currently being used in Oregon for civil disturbance response, according to defense officials.
However, protests were a focus of Guard resources and controversy earlier this summer when demonstrations over racial issues began in U.S. cities. In some places, such as Washington, D.C., federal police were difficult to distinguish from activated Guardsman.
“[Esper] has expressed his concern that in some cases, law enforcement appropriately performing law enforcement duties were misconstrued as military personnel,” Hoffman said. “I don’t have any guidelines from the secretary ... but he has expressed an interest in the topic.”
Esper ordered the after-action review to look at how the National Guard responded to civil unrest in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man who prosecutors say was murdered by a white Minneapolis police officer.
The review “will specifically evaluate” how the National Guard worked with local and federal law enforcement, according to the Pentagon. Esper directed Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy to organize and lead the review.
Airmen and soldiers were largely stoic through the demonstrations near the White House, which remained peaceful Wednesday night.
At the height of the unrest, governors in 33 states and the District of Columbia activated more than 41,500 National Guard members to assist state and local law enforcement in support of civil unrest operations, according to the National Guard Bureau.
As for the latest unrest, there have been no orders to deploy military personnel to Portland, Hoffman said.
“I can say unequivocally there are no Department of Defense assets that are deployed to or are pending deployment or are looking to deploy to Portland at this time,” Hoffman added.
Oregon National Guard spokesman Maj. Stephen Bomar said Monday that none of their personnel are currently being used for civil disturbance response in Portland either.
“We did have approximately 50 ORNG members support Oregon State Police with administrative duties for two days, which allowed for breaks and trooper redistribution plan for them in order to support Portland Police Bureau if/as needed,” Bomar said in an email to Military Times.