Homeland Security officials said Monday they are making preparations to deploy federal agents to Chicago, while President Trump threatened to send U.S. law enforcement personnel to other Democratic-led cities experiencing spates of crime.
“We’re looking at Chicago, too. We’re looking at New York,” he said. “All run by very liberal Democrats. All run, really, by the radical left.”
“This is worse than anything anyone’s ever seen,” Trump continued. “And you know what? If Biden got in, that would be true for the country. The whole country would go to hell.”
With his poll numbers sinking amid widespread frustration at his response to the coronavirus pandemic, Trump has cast himself as a law-and-order strongman who will pacify U.S. communities roiled in recent months by spreading disease, the economic crisis and large street protests for racial justice. Trump has wielded images of violent demonstrations, though the vast majority of racial justice protests have been peaceful.
Three Department of Homeland Security officials said Monday that the agency has been making preparations to deploy agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to Chicago, but the officials said operational details are not yet finalized.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the plans, said the agents, who are part of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations division, would not engage in immigration enforcement operations and would likely assist with intelligence-gathering and targeting of the drug-trafficking groups and gangs driving the violence.
Trump has mentioned New York and Philadelphia as two other cities where his administration is looking to send federal agents, but two DHS officials said Chicago is the only city where their preparations have advanced.
The Chicago Tribune first reported on the plans Monday, saying up to 150 agents would be involved, but the DHS officials said the size of the HSI contingent remains in flux.
DHS officials involved in the preparations also said the federal agents would be directed by the Department of Justice, and their assignment in Chicago would be very different from the standoff between federal forces and protesters in Portland, despite the president’s attempts to link the two.
On Sunday, Trump lashed out at the Democratic officials in Oregon who have asked his administration to withdraw from Portland, saying the heavy-handed tactics of DHS agents was exacerbating the confrontation outside the federal courthouse where violent clashes have played out over the past several weeks.
Border Patrol swat teams from the agency’s BORTAC tactical unit have squared off against sometimes militant protesters including anarchists wielding fireworks, laser pointers and slingshots, among other improvised weapons, according to the agency.
“The Radical Left Democrats, who totally control Biden, will destroy our Country as we know it,” the president wrote Sunday in a tweet. “Unimaginably bad things would happen to America. Look at Portland, where the pols are just fine with 50 days of anarchy. We sent in help. Look at New York, Chicago, Philadelphia. NO!”
To date, however, Portland and Seattle are the only cities that have seen sustained battles between militant protesters and authorities. Homeland Security officials sent BORTAC agents as well as ICE tactical officers to both cities in anticipation of clashes on the Fourth of July holiday, but the federal forces have mostly been withdrawn from Seattle.
In Portland, they remain to defend the Mark O. Hatfield courthouse and other nearby federal buildings that protesters have treated as a proxy for the Trump administration.
In response to the president calling Portland protesters anarchists and insinuating that local officials were afraid of them, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said, “this is a democracy, not a dictatorship. We cannot have secret police abducting people in unmarked vehicles. I can’t believe I have to say that to the President of the United States.”
The tactical teams are trained in riot control and mass demonstrations, but their field experience has mostly occurred along the border — where the Border Patrol has repelled migrant “caravans” with tear gas — and immigration jails where detainees sometimes riot.
They are trained to confront powerful drug cartels, said Ron Vitiello, the former Border Patrol chief and acting director of ICE until 2019.
“These guys go up against the worst of the worst along the southwest border, and their teams were built to have capability to do crowd controls and riots — that’s part of their basic certification,” he said.
On the streets of Portland, DHS officials said, the tactical teams have been flummoxed by protesters and anarchist groups using black bloc tactics to disguise their identities and work in coordination to confuse agents. One official said protesters over the weekend had arrived to the clashes armed with leaf blowers, using them to disperse tear gas and direct irritants back at federal agents.
DHS has expanded its intelligence-gathering authorities to include collecting information on protesters who threaten to damage or destroy public monuments, memorials and statues, regardless of whether they are on federal property, according to new guidance from the department’s intelligence and analysis unit.
That marks a dramatic expansion of authorities historically used to protect well-known American symbols such as the Statue of Liberty and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, experts said. The memo was first reported by the blog Lawfare.
Chicago’s gun violence has long been a focus of Trump’s ire, and he has repeatedly criticized law enforcement and city officials — sometimes by name — when invoking it. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he said police in the city needed to be “much tougher.” Shortly after taking office, Trump said the violence was “very easily fixable” and that officials there were “not doing the job.”
Trump tweeted early in his tenure that he would “send in the Feds!” even though there were already a number of federal officials in Chicago working with task forces that included the city’s police. City officials, in turn, had said they welcomed more federal help prosecuting gun crimes. Trump’s focus on Chicago continued even as bloodshed there has declined. Gun violence in Chicago surged in 2016 — with the city having its deadliest year in two decades — and homicides have declined in the years since.
But this year has seen a dangerous reversal of those trends, with shootings and killings both rising. As of Monday morning, there had been 414 homicides, more than 1,600 shootings and more than 2,000 shooting victims this year, according to Chicago police data — all numbers significantly ahead of where they were at the same point last year. Some other major American cities were also seeing increases in homicides over last year, while reports of some other crimes had declined.
Last month, Trump released a letter assailing state and city officials for the violence, describing them as having a “lack of leadership on this important issue.”
Trump also cited Philadelphia on Monday, days after again taking aim at Larry Krasner, the city’s district attorney. Krasner is one of the most high-profile progressive prosecutors elected in recent years who have pledged to decline lower-level charges and institute other criminal justice reforms.
Trump repeatedly criticized Krasner and last week referred to places “appointing left-wing social justice prosecutors, like you have in Philadelphia.”
In a statement on Monday responding to Trump’s suggestion that he could send more federal forces to Philadelphia, Krasner invoked his father and uncles who “served in World War II to fight fascism . . . so we would not have an American president brutalizing and kidnapping Americans for exercising their constitutional rights.”
Krasner also bluntly warned that federal officials could face prosecution.
“Anyone, including federal law enforcement, who unlawfully assaults and kidnaps people will face criminal charges from my office,” Krasner said. “At trial, they will face a Philadelphia jury. It’s the least we can do to honor those who fought fascism, including those who are fighting it even now.”
Marissa J. Lang in Portland and Devlin Barrett and Shane Harris in Washington contributed to this report.