“Rapid deployment teams” from the Department of Homeland Security have been sent to cities including Seattle and Portland, Oregon, where anti-police protests have swelled in recent weeks, while “regional deployment teams” are pre-positioned with the intent to be available anywhere in the US within six hours, according to an agency official.
Agents from typically immigration-focused divisions are also standing by in Washington and other cities, officials said, while the Federal Protective Service, the department’s agency responsible for protecting federal property, is taking the lead on the security initiative.
The enhanced law enforcement presence comes as images of activists attempting to pull down historic statues across the country have replayed on right-wing news outlets and angered the President, who has seized repeatedly on the “lawlessness” in public remarks and last week signed an executive order that threatens to withhold federal funding from local governments that are unable to protect monuments in their jurisdictions. In a speech to mark the holiday in front of Mount Rushmore on Friday, Trump will focus on efforts to “tear down our history,” blaming what he characterizes as a left wing mob for trying to “divide our country,” a Trump campaign aide familiar with the President’s speech said.
In recent weeks, the country has faced a reckoning over race following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Protesters calling for police reform and racial justice have torn down some of these controversial monuments as the conversation around race and history has bubbled to the surface. Last month, Trump fumed on Twitter after a Confederate statue was torn down in Washington, DC, and instructed his interior secretary to restore it immediately.
So far, the Justice Department has charged five people with attempting to topple a statue of former President Andrew Jackson in Washington’s Lafayette Square last month, including a man who was arrested on Thursday and also accused by federal prosecutors of setting another DC statue on fire.
On Wednesday, DHS announced a new task force centered on protecting “American monuments, memorials and statues.”
“DHS is answering the President’s call to use our law enforcement personnel across the country to protect our historic landmarks,” said Chad Wolf, acting secretary of homeland security, in a news release.
The Protecting American Communities Task Force will coordinate the DHS response, which may include assessing any potential unrest or deploying personnel, according to the press release. DHS will also partner with the Departments of Justice and the Interior to share information, according to the release.
As part of the deployment, Customs and Border Protection officers are in Washington, DC, Seattle and Portland to support the Federal Protective Service, according to a CBP spokesperson. CBP is primarily responsible for US border security at legal ports of entry, like airports, and along the southern and northern borders. However, the agency and others have been involved in recent patrols amid the protests.
As of earlier this week, law enforcement officers from other DHS agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Transportation Security Administration were prepared to deploy if needed, according to officials. It’s unclear how many law enforcement personnel from the department have been deployed for monument and memorial protection.
On Friday, he penned an op-ed in The Federalist, writing that “when someone tries to desecrate a statue of the guardians of America’s foundational principles, make no mistake: they attack America itself. Police must protect public property. Prosecutors must punish perpetrators. Politicians must neither placate nor patronize these pillagers.”
The vast majority of arrests across the country related to the unrest that’s emanated in some circumstances from the wave of protests, however, have been unrelated to monuments and statues.
More than 150 people have been charged federally related to the riots in recent weeks, including for destruction of property and arson. Hundreds more have faced local charges.
“We will use all resources to protect these monuments both in the DC area and throughout the United States, but we are also using these resources not only to charge federal cases,” Michael Sherwin, the acting US attorney in Washington, DC, said in an interview with Fox News on Thursday night. “What people don’t realize is the fact that under the direction of the attorney general, the FBI and other federal law enforcement, officials have leveraged and worked with local officials throughout the United States to charge hundreds of other cases related to local charges: assault and battery, theft.”