Press release

United States: Freedom House Expresses Alarm at Federal Deployments against Protesters

The president’s statements indicate political motives for the use of federal agencies.

In response to the recent use of federal security forces to police protests in the United States, Freedom House issued the following statement:

“We are alarmed by the ongoing deployment of federal security personnel to contain protests in American cities,” said Freedom House president Michael J. Abramowitz. “The vague and politicized presidential authority invoked to justify the deployments, the lack of requests or even consent from local officials for such assistance, the president’s statements linking the issue to his campaign for reelection, and questions about federal agents’ accountability for violations of protesters’ rights are all unusual and disturbing factors that cast doubt on the democratic legitimacy of the action. We call on the president, Congress, and the courts to uphold protesters’ rights to peaceful assembly and due process of law, and to heed the pleas of local officials to deescalate rather than intensify confrontations.”

Background:

On June 26, President Trump issued an “Executive Order on Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence.” Since then, the order has been used to justify the deployment of federal security forces to American cities experiencing protests. A variety of federal agencies have contributed personnel as part of a newly created “Protecting American Communities Task Force” led by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Unlike in recent months, when some governors activated the National Guard under their command to help police protests for racial justice, the latest deployments were not requested or welcomed by local officials, and they include agencies normally tasked with protecting the US border and enforcing immigration law rather than policing US citizens.

DHS itself and a number of its agencies currently lack Senate-confirmed leaders, with long-standing vacancies filled on an acting basis. This raises questions about the extent to which the department is operating with legislative oversight as intended by the constitution.

Local and federal elected officials representing cities that have received deployments complain that the federal personnel are not coordinating with local law enforcement or following local rules regarding the use of force. Some have said that the federal deployment appears intended to escalate, rather than deescalate, confrontations with protesters. President Trump has made the deployments part of his presidential reelection campaign. In a speech on July 4 at Mount Rushmore, President Trump said that “the violent mayhem we have seen in the streets of cities that are run by liberal Democrats, in every case, is the predictable result of years of extreme indoctrination and bias in education, journalism, and other cultural institutions,” and described the protests as a “left-wing cultural revolution…designed to overthrow the American Revolution.” In other, similar statements since then, the president has explicitly linked the federal interventions to the upcoming election, warning on July 20 that if his opponent won, such turmoil would spread nationwide.

Multiple protesters have been wounded by federal personnel during their deployment in Portland, Oregon, including one who suffered skull fractures after being shot in the head with a tear-gas canister. Protesters in Portland last week recorded detentions by federal personnel in unmarked vans who did not identify themselves.

The United States is rated as Free in Freedom in the World 2020 and Free in Freedom on the Net 2019.