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Esper concerned feds in camo are being confused for US troops in Portland and elsewhere

Protesters clamor against police brutality for the 50th day in a row, on July 16, 2020, at Portland, Oregon's Federal Courthouse and are met with tear gas and "less-lethal" munitions and many arrests. (John Rudoff/Sipa USA/TNS)
July 22, 2020

A spokesperson for U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Esper is concerned with the use of federal law enforcement officers wearing military-like camouflage uniforms while responding to riots across the country and wants a clear distinction between law enforcement and U.S. troops.

Politico reported Chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman told reporters Tuesday that Esper wants “a system where people can tell the difference” between law enforcement officers and U.S. military troops. Hoffman said Esper has raised the issue within President Donald Trump’s administration and “we want a system where people can tell the difference.”

“We saw this take place back in June when there were some law enforcement that wear uniforms that make them appear military in appearance,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman’s characterization of Esper’s concerns follow widespread protests throughout the country following the death of a Black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis police custody.

Esper previously opposed to the use of U.S. troops to handle domestic civil unrest matters. Now Esper is concerned with federal law enforcement officers carrying out similar civil unrest missions while wearing camouflage uniforms. A recent video of unidentified federal law enforcement officers detaining people on the street of Portland, Ore. has added to concerns about militarized policing.

It was not clear that Esper had any objection with federal agents performing law enforcement duties in Portland, only that Esper had objections to their militaristic appearance. In further comments reported by The Washington Times, Hoffman said Esper “has expressed his concern that in some cases law enforcement appropriately performing law enforcement duties were misconstrued with military personnel, who would not be appropriately doing those [responsibilities].”

Hoffman indicated Esper wants to meet with U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr and acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf to discuss the appearance of federal police tactics.

Hoffman also said there are no U.S. troops involved in the federal response to rioting in Portland, nor are there any plans to send U.S. troops into the city.

Local officials have also opposed the use of federal law enforcement officers in Portland in recent days.

“We do not need or want their help,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said in comments last week. “The best thing they can do is stay inside their building, or leave Portland altogether.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown also said in a statement last week that she believes the use of federal law enforcement is part of an effort by Trump to provoke confrontations for political purposes.

“This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety,” Brown said in a statement. “The President is failing to lead this nation. Now he is deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland in a blatant abuse of power by the federal government.”

DHS Secretary Wolf however has criticized the local law enforcement response after more than 47 nights of destructive demonstrations, including damage at a federal courthouse in Portland.

“Instead of addressing violent criminals in their communities, local and state leaders are instead focusing on placing blame on law enforcement and requesting fewer officers in their community,” Wolf said in a statement Thursday. “This failed response has only emboldened the violent mob as it escalates violence day after day.”