Fear the Nameless Army


Photograph by Courtesy of CNN

This is just one of the many memorials set up for “Justice for George.” This mural is in Minneapolis.

We are living in a police state. That is, a country in which the police– especially a secret police force –summarily suppresses any social, economic, or political act that conflicts with the ruling party or leader. 

During the first week of June, Black Lives Matter protests spread across the entire country, following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others at the hands of police. Peaceful protestors have been advocating for police accountability and an end to systemic racism. Alarmingly, at the behest of the President, Attorney General William Barr led an aggressive military force against peaceful protesters in Washington, D.C. It is not that a sitting President has never used military force to control crowds; however, it was the lack of clarity and anonymity of the militarized forces sent to control and overtake peaceful citizens that most concerns me. As a student who will be able to vote in the Presidential elections this November, this blatant abuse of power by the President and his Cabinet is extremely frightening to me.  

Federal law enforcement officers near the White House. A common sight during the past month. Click on image to find corresponding Huff Post article.

Washington, D.C. is one of the many U.S. cities that in recent weeks has been met with an array of military-grade acronyms: FBI, ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), BOP  (Federal Bureau of Prisons), along with an array of “usual suspects” including  Homeland Security, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, the Capitol Police, the Federal Protective Service, the Secret Service, the District of Columbia National Guard.

What has caused the most unrest in D.C. was the introduction of a new military group on Wednesday, June 3. At first, this police enforcement group appeared just as any similar group clad with their face shields, but with one big difference: they had no identifying insignia, no means for any protestors to know who they were. They were totally anonymous, and that is alarming. 

The reason why anonymous groups such as these are so dangerous is their lack of accountability. If one of these officers harms a peaceful protester, how would they be identified? To whom would they report? How would they be held accountable for their actions? Michael Bromwich, former Inspector General of the Justice Department who also served under the Obama administration, said that this anonymity “completely undermines the ability to hold law enforcement personnel who engage in misconduct accountable.” 

During the Obama administration in 2014, the DOJ was met with a similar problem when a white officer shot and killed Michael Brown Jr., an unarmed young Black man. This hate crime set off protests in Brown’s hometown of Ferguson, Missouri, where he was killed. The DOJ was quick to eliminate the anonymity of Ferguson police officers who had removed their nameplates, saying it fosters “mistrust and undermines accountability” and “conveys a message to community members that, through anonymity, officers may seek to act with impunity.”

Under our current leadership, on the other hand, it was the DOJ itself that led the unnamed army to counter peaceful protesters in D.C. This group, along with the aforementioned list of enforcement officers, was deployed by Attorney General William Barr to counter the city’s peaceful protests. Instead of squashing these militant authoritarian actions, the DOJ stood by it. 

Adding controversy, the deployment of the anonymous military group by Attorney General Barr was done so as an abuse of executive power. President Trump and Attorney General Barr deployed this group without informing Congress. This showcases the double standard existing in the U.S., as our government would be quick to pounce on another country’s acts of quasi-dictatorship. Today, it is our own government committing such acts.

“The practice of officers operating with full anonymity undermines accountability, ignites government distrust and suspicion, and is counter to the principle of procedural justice and legitimacy during this precarious moment in our nation’s history,” said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in a letter she sent directly to President Trump on Thursday, June 4. Congress did not know the identity of Barr’s “nameless army,” nor the authority on which the Trump administration organized the group and at what time. 

It’s impossible not to wonder why the Trump administration had this anonymous military group so readily accessible.

It’s impossible not to wonder why the Trump administration had this anonymous military group so readily accessible. 

And furthermore, state and district leaders, such as District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, have made it abundantly clear that they did not request military backup. Although the media may be paying more attention to the looting and police-incited violence at the protests, officials such as Mayor Bowser know that protest organizers are peaceful, as she made vocal when she challenged the President and demanded the withdrawal of federal police from D.C. In an interview with the Washington Post, Bowser said, “One question I keep asking myself is, what did they think we were going to do? Say, ‘oh, okay’? Anybody in the White House, especially the ones who’ve been in political life, know they would do exactly what I did. Fight back. They would have done exactly that.”

Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser overlooking the Black Lives Matter mural she commissioned on 16th Street. (Photograph by NPR)

So while we may be hurtling toward a military state, we are not quite there yet. We need to stand up. We can fight back as well. Make our voices known. Support our elected officials who are against any military intervention on citizens. Sign petitions. Donate. Educate. Vote.

Vote as if your country’s future matters.