Pentagon: Esper concerned about law enforcement officers wearing military garb

Greg Nash

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has expressed concern within the administration about federal law enforcement officers wearing military-style uniforms while responding to protests.

Esper has not directly raised his concerns with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), but he has expressed concerns within the administration, Esper’s spokesman said Tuesday.

“We saw this take place back in June when there were some law enforcement that wear uniforms that make them appear military in appearance,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday.

“The secretary has expressed a concern of this within the administration that we want a system where people can tell the difference,” he said. “I’m not aware of any direct conversations with DHS on this particular deployment or their particular operations in Portland over the last week or so.”

Hoffman also stressed “unequivocally” that no Pentagon assets have been or are planning to be deployed to Portland.

The comments come as top Democrats are demanding answers after reports of federal law enforcement officers wearing military-style fatigues apprehending protesters in Portland without identifying themselves. Some protesters have been held for hours without being charged or read their Miranda rights.

Trump has doubled down by threatening to deploy federal agents to other U.S. cities, such as Chicago.

But several top House Democrats have asked inspectors general to investigate whether federal law enforcement officers have violated the constitutional rights of protesters.

A trio of top Democrats, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), on Monday also expressed concern that by wearing military-style uniforms, the law enforcement agents “sully the reputation of members of our Armed Forces who were not involved.”

Similar concerns were raised in June during the height of nationwide protests against racial injustice, particularly after federal law enforcement agents forcibly cleared protesters from Lafayette Square across the White House

After the June protests, Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told the House Armed Services Committee in July they have learned of the need to better differentiate between law enforcement and the military. Milley specifically raised the issue of uniforms.

“Our guys are wearing, you know, camouflage uniforms; some of these police are in blue uniforms, others in camouflage, others are in solid green,” Milley said in early July. “You want a clear definition between that which is military and that which is police, in my view.”

Tags Adam Smith federal law enforcement Mark Esper

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