Defense Secretary Mark Esper has raised concerns within the administration about federal agents patrolling the streets of U.S. cities in camouflage uniforms similar to those worn by troops in war zones, his spokesperson said Tuesday.
After nationwide protests over racial injustice and police violence erupted in June, Esper expressed concern that in some cases, federal law enforcement officers were being confused with troops because of their similar uniforms, said Jonathan Hoffman, chief Pentagon spokesperson. Esper urged efforts to more clearly distinguish between the two, Hoffman said.
“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. Esper has told administration officials that “we want a system where people can tell the difference.”
Esper may be looking to have a conversation with Attorney General William Barr, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and their teams about the issue in the near future, Hoffman said, but did not specify a timeline.
Hoffman’s comments come amid rising alarm over federal agents dressed as troops sweeping into Portland, Ore., this week on President Donald Trump’s orders. Trump threatened to send additional agents into other major cities, including New York City and Philadelphia, if the “liberal Democrats” in charge don’t tamp down on civil unrest.
Hoffman stressed that there are no plans to send active-duty troops to Portland. Federal law enforcement and active-duty military operate under different authorities with regard to their interactions with the U.S. public. Under the Posse Comitatus Act, active-duty troops cannot interact with civilians unless expressly granted an exception by the president under the Insurrection Act.
Images of federal agents in Portland this week echoed the initial days of the June protests, when law enforcement used violence against mostly peaceful protesters. In a speech at the White House amid the protests, Trump threatened to use the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty military forces on the streets of American cities.