CREW sent an expedited request for records to the Department of Justice on its plans to target so-called domestic terrorist groups at nationwide protests for black lives and racial justice following Minneapolis Police officers killing an unarmed black man, George Floyd. Under Attorney General Barr, DOJ has long prioritized Trump’s personal, political and policy aims with disregard for transparency and the rule of law. Now, the agency’s ongoing behavior poses a direct risk to people’s lives.
CREW has requested documents that would clarify exactly how DOJ plans to define the groups it will target and intervene in demonstrations.
Following George Floyd’s homicide at the hands of Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin, demonstrations broke out in cities across the country advocating for greater accountability for police, especially involving their use of force against African Americans, who are disproportionately targeted and killed by the police. Some demonstrations escalated, reportedly at the hands of outside agitators separate from those demonstrating peacefully. In response, President Trump tweeted “The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.”
In a statement from AG Barr, DOJ responded to these events with broad, non-specific threats that mirrored President Trump’s rhetoric. The only entity singled out specifically as perpetrating domestic terrorism was Antifa–despite Antifa having no coherent organization and legal experts noting that while “acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries” is a federal crime, which allows the F.B.I. and federal prosecutors jurisdiction to pursue, “there is no equivalent crime of domestic terrorism.” Additionally, a leaked FBI report appears to refute Trump and Barr’s statements on Antifa, saying they found no evidence of Antifa activity at protests. All these factors together indicate that AG Barr is once again acting as Trump’s personal lawyer.
DOJ’s expansive and imprecise targeting, without any definition of which groups would be targeted for investigation or procedures on how DOJ would act against them could cause direct harm for demonstrators and exacerbate an existing problem.
The requested records will shed light on what processes DOJ intends to use to intervene in the ongoing demonstrations, and whether those processes were influenced by President Trump or by DOJ officials seeking to accommodate the president. During this historic turmoil, the public deserves a full understanding of DOJ’s decision-making process for intervening in the protests and if it has established standardized processes to ensure impartiality, transparency and accountability.