White House Chief of Staff suggests Portland-style federal intervention in Milwaukee

    Homeland Security Investigations
    White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows suggested on Sunday that federal agents could be sent to Milwaukee to impost "law and order." (Department of Homeland Security)

    White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows suggested on Sunday that federal agents could come to impose law and order in Milwaukee — a majority-minority city in a crucial presidential swing state. 

    Meadows referred to a crackdown on protesters in Portland, but didn’t say if any federal presence in Milwaukee would be similar to recent actions in Oregon. 

    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

    In a tweet, acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf called Oregon protesters “violent extremists” and posted photos of graffiti. 

    The federal involvement has generated heavy criticism from local and state officials, including a lawsuit from Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. The actions of federal law enforcement also drew thousands of protesters this weekend

    On the Fox News program “Sunday Morning Futures” Meadows didn’t give details, but said something will be rolled out this week to “make sure communities are safe.” 

    “It’s just not acceptable when you look at communities not being safe and not upholding the rule of law,” Meadows said. “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.”

    On Monday, the Chicago Tribune reported that 150 DHS agents would be deployed to Chicago.

    Milwaukee, like much of the country, has had consistent protests against racism and police violence since Minneapolis Police officers killed George Floyd on May 25. 

    “With few exceptions, protests in Milwaukee have been peaceful,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom 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.”

    The federal intervention in Portland and proposed actions in Midwestern cities are not the first time the White House has moved to quell protests this summer. In a much-maligned move, federal agents used tear gas and riot control techniques on June 1 to clear protesters out of Lafayette Square in Washington D.C. so President Donald Trump could take a photo in front of St. John’s Church. 

    Polling that showed public disapproval of Trump’s handling of the racial justice protests was partially attributed to the Lafayette Square photo-op. 

    On Sunday evening, Wisconsin Lt.Gov. Mandela Barnes suggested the decision to send federal agents into Milwaukee is also based on polling numbers. 

    “There is no point to this,” Barnes wrote on Twitter. “It’s about poll numbers. It’s Trump virtue signaling, potentially with force, to his base who already has opinions about Milwaukee because he’s down by so many points in the state. It’s an election strategy to drive an even deeper divide in Wisconsin.”

    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%. 

    Gov. Tony Evers did not respond to a request for comment.

    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.