Law Enforcement’s Response to Nationwide Racial Justice Protests

As Americans took to the streets to demand an end to police brutality in the summer of 2020, the Trump administration’s response was one of dangerous escalation and abuses of power. American Oversight is investigating the involvement of both federal and local law enforcement in suppressing, surveilling, and policing the protests.

The May 25, 2020, killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police reignited the national movement for racial justice and police reform and sparked massive protests in cities across the country. As Americans rose up to demand change, federal and local law enforcement agencies responded with escalating tactics and dangerous rhetoric.

Multiple cities saw police deploy tear gas, fire rubber bullets, or use tactics like mass arrests and “kettling” — in which officers push people into tightly packed spaces — that are particularly dangerous during a pandemic. Other reports raised serious First Amendment concerns about the use of covert surveillance and information-gathering on protesters, including the use of military-style drones over demonstrations to provide video to law enforcement.

The involvement of federal officers and National Guard members in the protest response was especially noticeable in the nation’s capital, where thousands were deployed in an effort by Attorney General William Barr to “flood the zone” and squash demonstrations. Many didn’t wear identifying insignia or badges and refused to tell protesters what agency they represented. Low-flying helicopters hovered near protesters in an apparent attempt to disperse crowds.

In one early June incident that heightened the dystopian sense of U.S. cities being occupied by their own military, federal officers fired tear gas canisters and used physical force to push back peaceful protesters demonstrating near the White House well ahead of the District of Columbia’s 7 p.m. curfew. Shortly thereafter, President Donald Trump staged his ill-conceived and highly criticized photo opportunity in front of a nearby church, where he brandished a Bible for the cameras. According to reports, the order to push back the protesters came from Barr himself.

The federal government’s aggressive response escalated to a frightening new level in mid-July, when officers in unmarked vehicles drove around downtown Portland, Ore., detaining protesters without explaining the reason for the arrest or who they were. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf’s inflammatory rhetoric about “violent mobs” of anarchists formed the justification for the alarming abuses of federal power, as local and state leaders demanded that federal forces leave.

American Oversight has filed numerous public records requests to expose what was happening behind the scenes of law enforcement’s dangerous tactics and the federal government’s aggressive response to the protest movement.

Related Documents

October 14, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking PACT Records

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
October 14, 2020

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Anti-Governmental Extremism Task Force Records

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
October 13, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Communications Regarding Investigations into Antifa and Black Lives Matter

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
October 13, 2020

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Communications Regarding Investigations into Antifa and Black Lives Matter

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
October 13, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Directives Regarding Investigations of Antifa and Black Lives Matter

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
October 13, 2020

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Directives Regarding Investigations of Antifa and Black Lives Matter

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
October 7, 2020

No Records Response from DHS Regarding Directives Related to Operation Legend

Department of Homeland Security
Agency Reply
October 5, 2020

Records Request to Wisconsin Governor’s Office Seeking DOJ and DHS Emails

Wisconsin Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
October 2, 2020

Records Request to Illinois Governor’s Office Seeking DOJ and DHS Emails Regarding Operation Legend

Illinois - Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
October 2, 2020

Records Request to Kansas City Mayor’s Office Seeking DOJ and DHS Emails

Missouri - Kansas City Mayor's Office
FOIA Request
October 2, 2020

Records Request to New Mexico Governor’s Office Seeking DOJ and DHS Emails

New Mexico Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
September 17, 2020

No Records Response from DOJ OIP Regarding Assessments of Outside Entities Exploiting Racial Justice Protests

Department of Justice, DOJ - Office of Information Policy
Agency Reply
September 15, 2020

Illinois Office of the Governor Records of Communications with the White House Regarding Operation Legend

Illinois - Office of the Governor
Agency Record
September 14, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Contracts and Communications with Enterprise Holdings and Marriott International

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
September 13, 2020

No Records Response from Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office Regarding Emails with the White House

Wisconsin - Milwaukee County
Agency Reply
September 8, 2020

No Records Response from DOD Regarding the Use of Low-Flying Helicopters Against Protesters

Department of Defense
Agency Reply
September 3, 2020

FOIA to DHS for Records of Costs of Chad Wolf Trip to Portland, Ore.

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
September 2, 2020

No Records Responsive from ICE Regarding Use of Force Guidelines and Deployment Orders at Protests

Department of Homeland Security, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Agency Reply
September 1, 2020

No Records Response from U.S. Secret Service Regarding Impact of Riot Control Techniques on the Spread of Covid-19

Department of Homeland Security
Agency Reply
September 1, 2020

No Records Response from TSA Regarding Portland Protests

Department of Homeland Security, DHS - Transportation Security Administration
Agency Reply
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Kansas City Mayor’s Office Seeking Emails with White House

Missouri - Kansas City Mayor's Office
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Missouri Governor’s Office Seeking Emails with White House

Missouri - Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to New Mexico Governor’s Office Seeking Emails with White House

New Mexico Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Albuquerque Police Department Seeking Emails with White House

New Mexico - Albuquerque Police Department
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Cleveland Mayor’s Office Seeking Emails with White House

Ohio - City of Cleveland Mayor's Office
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Cleveland Division of Police Seeking Emails with White House

Ohio - Cleveland Division of Police
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Ohio Governor’s Office Seeking Emails with White House

Ohio Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Milwaukee Mayor’s Office Seeking Emails with White House

Wisconsin - City of Milwaukee
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Milwaukee Police Department Seeking Emails with White House

Wisconsin - Milwaukee Police Department
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Request to Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office Seeking Emails with White House

Wisconsin - Milwaukee County
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Albuquerque Mayor’s Office Seeking Emails with White House

New Mexico - Albuquerque Mayor's Office
FOIA Request
August 24, 2020

No Records Response from DHS Regarding Whistleblower Complaints for Officers at Portland Protests

Department of Homeland Security, DHS Office of Inspector General
Agency Reply
August 21, 2020

Rejection from FBI Regarding Reimbursements Made to Officers Deployed to Portland

Department of Justice, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation
Agency Reply
August 19, 2020

Rejection from FBI Regarding Costs of Lodging for Portland Deployment

Department of Justice, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation
Agency Reply
August 13, 2020

FOIA to State Seeking Reports on Foreign Influence on Nationwide Racial Justice Protests

Department of State
FOIA Request
August 13, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Directives Related to DOJ’s Operation Legend

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
August 13, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Documents Reflecting Violent-Crime Reduction Strategy of Operation Legend

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
August 13, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Numbers of Personnel Deployed in Operation Legend

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
August 13, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Operation Legend Arrest Data

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
August 12, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies for Records Related to the Cost of Deploying Federal Officials to Portland, Oregon

Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, DHS - Federal Protective Service, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - Transportation Security Administration, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DHS - United States Coast Guard, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Prisons, DOJ - U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration
FOIA Request
August 12, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies for Lodging Invoices from the Federal Deployment to Portland, Oregon

Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, DHS - Federal Protective Service, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - Transportation Security Administration, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DHS - United States Coast Guard, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Prisons, DOJ - U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration
FOIA Request
August 10, 2020

FOIA to ICE Seeking Interagency Agreements Regarding Sharing Data on Protests

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
August 7, 2020

Complaint: American Oversight v. DOJ, DHS, CBP, ICE, DOD and NGB – Federal Deployment Orders and Use of Force Guidelines at Protests

Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DOD - National Guard Bureau
Litigation
August 6, 2020

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Directives and Guidance Given to Federal Police Forces Responding to Protests

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
August 6, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Directives and Guidance Given to Federal Police Forces Responding to Protests

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
August 6, 2020

No Records Response from USMS Regarding MOU Agreements Concerning Protest Surveillance

Department of Justice, DOJ - U.S. Marshals Service
Agency Reply
August 6, 2020

No Records Response from I&A Regarding Tracking of Protesters

Department of Homeland Security, DHS - Office of Intelligence and Analysis
Agency Reply
August 5, 2020

Portland, Ore., Mayor’s Office Records of Protest-Related Communications with Federal Agencies

Oregon - Portland Mayor's Office
Agency Record
August 5, 2020

FOIA to DOJ for Records Regarding Operation Legend Funding

Department of Justice, DOJ - Office of Justice Programs
FOIA Request
August 5, 2020

FOIA to DOJ U.S. Attorneys’ Office Seeking Communications About Operation Legend

Department of Justice, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys
FOIA Request
August 5, 2020

FOIA to DOJ Criminal Division Seeking Communications Regarding Operation Legend

Department of Justice, DOJ - Criminal Division
FOIA Request
August 5, 2020

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Communications Regarding Operation Legend

Department of Justice, DOJ - Office of Information Policy
FOIA Request
August 5, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Operation Legend Arrest Data

Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DOJ - Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, DOJ - Criminal Division, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, DOJ - U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration
FOIA Request
August 5, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Numbers of Personnel Deployed in Operation Legend

Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DOJ - Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, DOJ - Criminal Division, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, DOJ - Office of Justice Programs, DOJ - U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration
FOIA Request
August 5, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Documents Reflecting Violent-Crime Reduction Strategy of DOJ’s Operation Legend

Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DOJ - Criminal Division, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Prisons, DOJ - Office of Justice Programs, DOJ - U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration
FOIA Request
August 5, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Directives Related to DOJ’s Operation Legend

Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DOJ - Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, DOJ - Criminal Division, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, DOJ - Office of Justice Programs, DOJ - U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration
FOIA Request
August 4, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Assessments of Outside Entities Exploiting Racial Justice Protests

Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation, DOJ - National Security Division, DOJ - Office of Information Policy
FOIA Request
August 3, 2020

FOIA to DOJ for Communications with Police Unions

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
July 31, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Emails Regarding Protester Classifications

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
July 31, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking New or Changed Directives Regarding Police Response to Protests

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
July 31, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Reports and Recommendations Regarding Nationwide Protest Data

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
July 31, 2020

Response from IPR Regarding Use of Force Complaints

Oregon - Portland Independent Police Review Division
Agency Reply
July 29, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Acting Secretary Wolf’s Decision Memos

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
July 29, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Acting General Counsel Mizelle’s Decision Memos

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
July 28, 2020

No Records Response from ICE Regarding Interagency MOU Agreements on Protest Surveillance

Department of Homeland Security, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Agency Reply
July 27, 2020

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Whistleblower Complaints Submitted in Response to Federal Agents’ Actions Against Portland Protesters

Department of Justice, DOJ Office of the Inspector General
FOIA Request
July 27, 2020

Records Request to Portland, Ore., Seeking Complaints of Excessive Force Against Protesters

Oregon - Portland Independent Police Review Division
FOIA Request
July 27, 2020

FOIA to CRCL Regarding DHS Activity Against Protesters in Portland

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
July 23, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Communications with Portland Police Association

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
July 23, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Communications with Members of the Portland Police Association

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
July 23, 2020

ORR to the Portland Police Bureau Seeking Communications with the Federal Government

Oregon - Portland Police Bureau
FOIA Request
July 23, 2020

ORR to the Portland Police Bureau Seeking Communications with Police Unions

Oregon - Portland Police Bureau
FOIA Request
July 22, 2020

Records Request to Oregon Governor’s Office Seeking Federal Communications

Oregon Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
July 22, 2020

Records Request to the Mayor of Portland, Ore., Seeking Communications with Federal Agencies

Oregon - Portland Mayor's Office
FOIA Request
July 21, 2020

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Directives to Designate Antifa as a Terrorist Organization

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
July 17, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies for White House Communications Regarding Portland, Ore., Protests

Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, DOJ - Office of Information Policy
FOIA Request
July 17, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies for Records Related to Federal Police, Use of Force Guidelines, and Deployment Orders at Protests

Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Prisons, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, DOJ - U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration
FOIA Request
July 14, 2020

Records Request to Georgia Attorney General for Texts About Black Lives Matter Protests

Georgia Attorney General
FOIA Request
July 14, 2020

No Records Response from OIP Concerning MOU Agreements About Protest Surveillance

Department of Justice, DOJ - Office of Information Policy
Agency Reply
July 10, 2020

No Records Response from DHS Regarding Law Enforcement Tracking of Protesters

Department of Homeland Security
Agency Reply
June 26, 2020

U.S. Secret Service Records of Interagency Agreements Regarding Protest Surveillance

Department of Homeland Security, DHS - United States Secret Service
Agency Record
June 11, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Assessments on Coronavirus Risk Posed by Use of Tear Gas and Mass Arrests

Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of the Interior, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - Transportation Security Administration, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DHS - United States Secret Service, DOD - National Guard Bureau, DOI - National Park Service, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Prisons, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, DOJ - U.S. Marshals Service
FOIA Request
June 10, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Assessments of Protests

Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, DOJ - Office of Information Policy
FOIA Request
June 10, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Interagency MOU Agreements Regarding Protest Surveillance

Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - Office of Intelligence and Analysis, DHS - Transportation Security Administration, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DHS - United States Secret Service, DOD - Defense Intelligence Agency, DOD - Department of the Air Force, DOD - National Guard Bureau, DOJ - Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, DOJ - U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration
FOIA Request
June 10, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Federal Law Enforcement Agencies Regarding Tracking of Protesters

Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - Office of Intelligence and Analysis, DHS - Transportation Security Administration, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DHS - United States Secret Service, DOD - Defense Intelligence Agency, DOD - Department of the Air Force, DOD - National Guard Bureau, DOJ - Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, DOJ - U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration
FOIA Request
June 9, 2020

FOIA to D.C. Mayor’s Office Regarding Communications with Trump Organization

District of Columbia Mayor's Office
FOIA Request
June 9, 2020

FOIA to D.C. Metropolitan Police Regarding Communications with Trump Organization

District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department
FOIA Request
June 9, 2020

FOIA to D.C. Metropolitan Police Regarding Communications with White House

District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department
FOIA Request
June 8, 2020

FOIA to DC Mayor’s Office Regarding Federal Response to DC Protests

District of Columbia Mayor's Office
FOIA Request
June 8, 2020

FOIA to DC Mayor’s Office Regarding Discussion Memos about Federal Response to DC Protests

District of Columbia Mayor's Office
FOIA Request
June 4, 2020

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Records Related to the Federal Protest Response Led by Attorney General Barr

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
June 3, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Records Regarding the Use of Low-Flying Helicopters Against Protesters

Department of Defense, DOD - Department of the Army, DOD - National Guard Bureau
FOIA Request
June 2, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Order to Use Force on Protesters in Lafayette Park in Advance of Presidential Photo-Op

Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of the Interior, DHS - United States Secret Service, DOD - National Guard Bureau, DOI - National Park Service
FOIA Request