Trump is Preparing for Martial Law

Trump expected to send new federal force to Chicago this week to battle violence, but plan’s full scope is a question mark

By Gregory Pratt and Jeremy Gorner

Chicago Tribune

Jul 20, 2020 at 7:56 PM

Federal agents use crowd control munitions to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse on July 20, 2020, in Portland, Oregon. (Noah Berger / AP)

Chicago may see an influx of federal agents as soon as this week as President Donald Trump readies to make good on repeated pledges he would try to tamp down violence here, a move that would come amid growing controversy nationally about federal force being used in American cities.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, for example, is crafting plans to deploy about 150 federal agents to the city this week, the Chicago Tribune has learned.

The Homeland Security Investigations, or HSI, agents are set to assist other federal law enforcement and Chicago police in crime-fighting efforts, according to sources familiar with the matter, though a specific plan on what the agents will be doing — and what their limits would be — had not been made public.

DHS in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment, while the Department of Justice indicated an announcement would be forthcoming on an expansion of what has been dubbed Operation Legend, which saw several federal law enforcement agencies assist local police in Kansas City, Missouri, including the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service.

Activists march through the Loop to protest the deployment of federal agents in Chicago on July 20, 2020. (Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)

One Immigration and Customs Enforcement official in Chicago, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak on the matter, confirmed the deployment was expected to take place. The official noted that the HSI agents, who are part of ICE, would not be involved in immigration or deportation matters.

Federal agents being used to confront street protesters in Portland, Oregon, has raised alarm in many circles. Chicago, too, has dealt with protests that have led to injuries in recent days.

At an unrelated news conference Monday morning, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she has great concerns about the general possibility of Trump sending feds to Chicago based on what has happened in Portland.

If Trump wants to help, she said, he could boost federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives resources and fully fund prosecutors.

We don’t need federal agents without any insignia taking people off the streets and holding them, I think, unlawfully,” Lightfoot said.

It was unclear where all the agents would be coming from, though sources said some could be from agencies operating in the Chicago area, and others might appear from around the country. Questions remained about the chain of command they would fall under.

The Chicago Police Department issued a statement Monday.

“The Chicago Police Department does not maintain any authority over the federal government’s deployment of federal law enforcement agents to the City of Chicago. We regularly work alongside our local and federal law enforcement agency partners toward the common goal of keeping Chicago residents safe,” the statement read. “If federal agents are deployed, it is critical that they coordinate with the Chicago Police Department and work alongside us to fight violent crime in Chicago.”

Activists march through the Loop to protest the deployment of federal agents in Chicago on July 20, 2020. (Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)

Later Monday, Lightfoot sent a four-page letter to Trump saying that, despite his “misplaced and incendiary rhetoric,” she will take him at his word that he wants to help Chicago.

And if that’s so, she said, the city needs gun safety reforms and investigations of illegal sales, more spending on community-based outreach and development in disinvested South and West Side neighborhoods.

“These acts will deliver on your promise to make Chicagoans safer — not derision, mandates, or militarized forces,” Lightfoot said.

But late Monday, Lightfoot appeared on the MSNBC show “The ReidOut” and said she will use every tool she has to stop Trump from sending “troops” to the city, including filing a lawsuit.

“We’re not going to have tyranny in the city of Chicago,” Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot said the federal government could help by sending resources that work through the existing federal infrastructure but said she’s concerned about the possibility of what happened in Portland happening in Chicago.

Our democracy is at stake and I’ll be darned if I’m going to let anybody, even if their name is Mr. President, bring those kind of troops to our city and try to take off our residents,” Lightfoot said.

Word of the Chicago plan comes as Trump last week made a vague announcement on how his administration intended to deal with crime in big U.S. cities like Chicago. The Republican president, who has been very critical of Chicago’s violence throughout his term, has been pushing a “law-and-order” message as he enters the final stretch of his reelection campaign against his presumptive Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Trump alluded to the same issue in an interview with “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, calling Chicago and New York “stupidly run” cities and blaming the violent crime there on Lightfoot and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

He repeated his pledge at the White House on Monday, and linked the effort to Portland.

“I’m going to do something that I can tell you, because we’re not going to leave New York and Chicago and Philadelphia, Detroit and Baltimore, and all of these — Oakland is a mess. We’re not going to let this happen in our country, all run by liberal Democrats,” Trump said, talking about violence in those places, and then mentioning Portland.

“We’re going to have more federal law enforcement, that I can tell you,” he said. “In Portland, they’ve done a fantastic job. They’ve been there three days and they really have done a fantastic job in a very short period of time, no problem.”

Lightfoot pushed back last week on criticism from Trump’s press secretary, saying the Trump administration is trying to put the blame for crime on Democrats for political purposes to “score points with their base.”

Without offering specifics, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told Fox News over the weekend that Trump, Attorney General William Barr and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf would roll out a plan this week about reducing crime in various U.S. cities.

“Some of the unrest that we saw, even in the last month or so, but particularly last night and in the week leading up to it in Portland, is just not acceptable when you look at communities not being safe and not upholding the rule of law,” said Meadows. “So, Attorney General 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 that the communities, whether it’s Chicago or Portland or Milwaukee or some place across the heartland of the country, we need to make sure their communities are safe.”

As news of the plans spread, leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois issued a strongly worded statement opposing the move.

“Make no mistake: Trump’s federal troops will not be a constructive force in Chicago,” Colleen Connell, executive director of the group, said in the statement. “As our colleagues have seen in Portland, Trump’s secret forces will terrorize communities, and create chaos. This is not law and order. This is an assault on the people of this country, the specific protections of protest and press in the First Amendment, and the Constitution’s assignment of policing to local authorities — not from a president acting like a despot.”

The president of CPD’s largest union had pushed for the federal government to help fight crime in Chicago as recently as Saturday, sending Trump a letter.

“I am certain you are aware of the chaos currently affecting our city on a regular basis now,” John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, wrote in a letter that was posted on the FOP’s Facebook page. “I am writing to formally ask you for help from the federal government. Mayor Lightfoot has proved to be a complete failure who is either unwilling or unable to maintain law and order here.”

In her MSNBC interview, Lightfoot called Catanzara “unhinged.”

On Sunday, Black Lives Matter Chicago issued a statement condemning Catanzara’s request, saying it “made even more frightening” the news of federal agents rounding up protesters in Portland.

“Escalating the level of surveillance and militarization of our communities does not make us safer, whether it is by federal agents or the Chicago Police Department,” the group said in the statement. “Defunding the police and investing in education, jobs, housing, and mental health care is what is needed to make us safe.”

Former Obama education secretary Arne Duncan, who now leads anti-violence group Chicago CRED, said he doesn’t believe Trump is trying to help the city.

“I have zero confidence that he’s trying to serve anyone’s interests but his own, that’s all he does,” Duncan said.

Like Lightfoot, Duncan said he’s concerned that Trump’s move could exacerbate problems if it turns into a situation like Portland.

“It’s creating lawlessness, it’s not stopping it. It is an act of lawlessness itself,” Duncan said. “If that’s the plan, if that’s the intent, nobody needs it, including Chicago.”

So far in 2020, Chicago has experienced one of its most violent years in recent memory, especially since late May with the fallout over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota. Through July 12, homicides in Chicago were up 48% with 385, compared with 260 at the same time last year, official CPD statistics show. Shootings were also up by 46%.

During a 28-day period through July 12, 116 people were slain in Chicago, the statistics show. That’s up from 41 during the same period in 2019.

Other cities around the country also have seen spikes in violence this year. For instance, through July 12 in New York, homicides were up 23% over the year-earlier period, while shootings rose about 61% during that same time last year, according to NYPD statistics. In Philadelphia, homicides were up 21% through July 19, and shooting victims were up by 33% compared with that same period in 2019, Philadelphia police statistics show. In Los Angeles, homicides were up close to 13%, according to LAPD statistics through July 11.

In addition to Portland, Homeland Security agents have already been sent to other cities, including Washington, D.C., and Seattle.

Oregon’s attorney general sued Homeland Security and the U.S. Marshals Service on Friday, alleging in a complaint that federal agents in Portland, which has continued to see intense unrest since Floyd’s death on May 25, unjustifiably grabbed people from the city’s streets.

Chicago Tribune’s David Heinzmann contributed.

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