At least some of the highly alarming, unidentified federal police auxiliaries deployed within the nation’s capital will stand down, according to representatives from the Department of Homeland Security.
“CBP is demobilizing personnel and they will be returning to their routine duties,” a spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection told The Daily Beast on Monday.
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement official told The Daily Beast that its forces will withdraw as well. That official said on Tuesday, after this story was first published, that all ICE's officers were clearly identified as working for ICE.
The timetable for demobilization is still unclear. CBP and ICE personnel are only two components of a force that sprung up nearly overnight in front of federal buildings during the protests against institutional racism in policing.
But according to a DHS document published by Yahoo News, CBP deployed 400 personnel to the counter-protest mission, making it the largest DHS contingent of a reported 1,300-strong irregular force. The same document cited 160 ICE officers deployed amid the protests in the city. The force includes Justice Department personnel, including officers from the Bureau of Prisons.
Those armed forces neither wore visible insignia nor typically identified their agencies or the authorities under which they operated. Critics compared them to a secret police force. Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser, on Friday wrote to President Donald Trump to request “unidentified federal personnel” be withdrawn due to their continued presence posing “both safety and national security risks.”
The Justice Department and DHS have not clarified the command structure or the legal authorities behind the deployment and its anonymity.
Deploying unidentified officers is “unconstitutional,” lawyers from the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University wrote to Attorney General Bill Barr on Thursday: “They violate the First Amendment because they are designed to chill protected expression and assembly and will have the direct and foreseeable effect of doing so, and because they lack any justification.”
The planned withdrawal follows a decision from the White House to begin removing National Guard personnel from the district, as well as a Pentagon order to demobilize an active-duty military force held on standby outside the city.
According to a National Guard press release, more than 600 National Guards members returned on Sunday to their home states, with 1,500 expected to leave in the next 24 hours, out of the 4,000 now in the city. The remaining Guard personnel “are expected to return home by Wednesday,” the release claimed.
Peter Newsham, the chief of D.C. police, told reporters on Monday that massive protests against institutional white supremacy over the weekend were “exclusively without violence.”
Last week, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) introduced legislation to ban what he called “unidentified and unaccountable” police and military servicemembers. “The United States would normally condemn this tactic if used by dictators of other countries, and its use here directly threatens our democracy,” Murphy said in a statement Thursday.
And on Monday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the chairman of the House intelligence committee, wrote to the Pentagon’s intelligence chief to ascertain if any Defense Department intelligence support to the administration’s response to the protests.
“[T]he utilization of defense intelligence resources to provide “situational awareness” to any government personnel responding to domestic events – such as through the use of geospatial intelligence or any intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets – would be grossly inappropriate and constitute a severe violation of the American people’s trust,” Schiff wrote to Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Joseph D. Kernan.
Additional reporting by Erin Banco