Former Homeland Security secretary says DHS not meant to be 'president's personal militia'

Former Homeland Security secretary says DHS not meant to be 'president's personal militia'
© Getty Images

Tom Ridge, a former Republican governor of Pennsylvania and the first secretary of Homeland Security, asserted that the department — established in late 2002 — was not created "to be the President's personal militia."

The Department of Homeland Security has garnered attention recently amid ongoing actions against Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland, Ore. The Trump administration deployed federal officers to the city in late June to protect federal property, a move that has generated a wave of backlash from Democrats, advocates and some Republicans. 

"The department was established to protect America from the ever-present threat of global terrorism," Ridge told radio host Michael SmerconishMichael SmerconishTrump attacks former DHS secretary over criticism of federal crackdown Former Homeland Security secretary says DHS not meant to be 'president's personal militia' Klobuchar to be next guest on Biden's podcast MORE on Tuesday.

ADVERTISEMENT

He then gave his perspective as a former governor, saying, "Had I been governor even now, I would welcome the opportunity to work with any federal agency to reduce crime or lawlessness in any of the cities. But ... it would be a cold day in hell before I would consent to a unilateral, uninvited intervention into one of my cities."

Protesters in Portland have been holding demonstrations in the city's downtown area since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the end of May. The demonstrations have dominated Portland's downtown and at times have led to the damage of federal property.

Tensions between protesters and DHS officers reached a boiling point last week.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfFederal agencies seize, dismantle cryptocurrency campaigns of major terrorist organizations Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Watch live: Acting DHS chief testifies on deployment of federal agents to protests MORE called protesters a "violent mob" and "lawless anarchists," using similar language that President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Michael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Trump requests mail-in ballot for Florida congressional primary MORE has used to describe protesters across the country.

Two weekends ago, a protester was critically injured after being shot in the head by nonlethal ammunition fired by federal officers. Then on Friday, reports surfaced that federal agents clad in unidentifiable military fatigues and driving unmarked vans were picking up protesters and detaining them. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The behavior of the officers immediately sparked outrage from Democratic lawmakers in the state, and the conduct of the Homeland Security agents has raised serious legal and constitutional questions.

Both Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D) and Oregon Gov. Kate BrownKate BrownOregon state police ending protest duty, leaving Portland Protesters block ICE from detaining two Mexican immigrants for 12 hours Portland officials: Protesters arrested on nonviolent misdemeanor charges won't be prosecuted MORE (D) have condemned the federal presence. Members of Oregon's congressional delegation wrote to Wolf last week demanding a full review of what happened.

Speaker of the House Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSusan Collins asks postmaster general to address delays of 'critically needed mail' Trump says he'd sign bill funding USPS but won't seek changes to help mail voting On The Money: Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief agreement | Weekly jobless claims fall below 1 million for first time since March | Trump says no Post Office funding means Democrats 'can't have universal mail-in voting' MORE (D-Calif.) has called the officers "stormtroopers."

Nonetheless, Trump and Wolf have both doubled down on the use of federal forces to quell unrest in cities this week.

The president on Monday said that he would possibly be sending more federal officers to other "Democratic" cities, saying that the agents in Portland were doing "a fantastic job."

“I’m going to do something — that, I can tell you,” Trump said. “Because we’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these — Oakland is a mess.”

"I don't need invitations by the state, state mayors or state governors to do our job. We're going to do that, whether they like us there or not," Wolf said Monday. The acting secretary added Tuesday that the federal officers in Portland “will not retreat."