Justice Department sending federal agents to Milwaukee in crackdown on Democrat-run cities

    PORTLAND, OR - JULY 21:A federal officer tells the crowd to move while dispersing a protest in front of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on July 21, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. State and city elected officials have called for the federal officers to leave Portland as clashes between protesters and federal police continue to escalate. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

    Federal agents will be deployed to Milwaukee and several other midwestern cities run by Democrats in the coming weeks, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday. The move is an escalation of occasionally violent federal intervention in cities that have seen large protests for racial justice. 

    Trump announced that as part of “Operation Legend” agents from the U.S. Department of Justice will be sent into Albuquerque, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee. Three hundred agents will first be sent into Chicago before the program is expanded to the other cities. 

    “In recent weeks there’s been a radical movement to defund, dismantle and dissolve our police departments,” Trump said. “To look at it from any standpoint, the effort to shut down policing in their own communities has led to a shocking explosion of shootings, killings, murders, heinous crimes of violence. This bloodshed must end. This bloodshed will end.” 

    People in all four of these cities have been part of the nationwide mass protest movement and some policy changes surrounding the police have been made or announced — including some cuts to police budgets — but none of these cities have moved to dismantle or dissolve their police departments. 

    The announcement didn’t say how many agents will be in Milwaukee, but DOJ will spend $61 million to hire new officers and 200 federal agents will be reassigned to these cities. 

    Earlier this week, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows mentioned Milwaukee in a list of cities that could see federal agents in their streets to “impose law and order.” 

    “It’s just not acceptable when you look at communities not being safe and not upholding the rule of law,” Meadows said on the Fox News program “Sunday Futures.” “So, Attorney General [William] Barr is weighing in on that with Secretary Wolf and you’ll see something rolled out this week as we start to go in and make sure the communities, whether it’s Chicago or Portland or Milwaukee or someplace across the heartland of the country, we need to make sure communities are safe.”

    By mentioning Portland, Meadows suggested any federal intervention in other cities could lead to violence on American citizens by federal officers. 

    Last week, special agents from the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS), without badges and wearing uniforms that identified them only as “police,” drove around the city in unmarked rental vehicles arresting people, Oregon Public Broadcasting first reported

    Agents in Portland have also shot protesters in the head with so-called “less-lethal” rounds and tear-gassed large groups of people — including mothers and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. 

    PORTLAND, OR - JULY 17: Federal officers prepare to disperse the crowd of protestors outside the Multnomah County Justice Center on July 17, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Federal law enforcement agencies attempt to intervene as protests continue in Portland. (Photo by Mason Trinca/Getty Images)
    PORTLAND, OR – JULY 17: Federal officers prepare to disperse the crowd of protestors outside the Multnomah County Justice Center on July 17, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Federal law enforcement agencies attempt to intervene as protests continue in Portland. (Photo by Mason Trinca/Getty Images)

    Earlier this week, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said any federal presence would be “unproductive.” 

    “With few exceptions, protests in Milwaukee have been peaceful,” Barrett said in a statement. “It is preposterous to suggest Milwaukee needs federal agents to quell unrest or manage peaceful protests. Their presence at this time could be counterproductive.”

    Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of DHS, has said recently federal agents would be sent into cities regardless of what local city and police officials want. Milwaukee Police Association President Dale Bormann has also said he doesn’t think federal agents are needed.

    “It appears so far our protesting here has been, for the most part, good,” he told WTMJ on Wednesday. “There really hasn’t been any destruction of property or anything like that. The federal police that the government wants to bring in, I don’t think we need it at this moment. I think they need to be put elsewhere. We don’t need it yet. As long as everything stays peaceful, I think our officers can handle doing the job.”

    The ACLU of Wisconsin suggested in a statement earlier this week that it would go to court immediately. 

    “It’s hard to say too much about the seriousness of what we’ve seen in Portland, or plans to expand these repressive, sinister tactics to other cities in the United States,” Chris Ott, Executive Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said in a statement. “Sending unmarked government agents to abduct people off the street in secret is an incredibly dangerous line to cross. It’s the kind of thing that happens in police states and dictatorships. In America, this is unconstitutional, and unforgivable.”

    With 103 days until the 2020 presidential election, the decision by the Trump administration to send agents to crack down on protests in majority-minority cities in the important swing states of Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, is largely seen as a political decision — with potentially violent consequences for the people in those cities. 

    A Marquette Law School poll of registered voters in Wisconsin released in June found that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden had 49% support and Trump had 41%.

    Henry Redman
    Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.