‘Get the hell out of our uniforms’: It’s getting hard to tell who are the real law enforcement as camouflaged Feds crack down on protests

  • Retired US Army Gen. Russel Honoré, the three-star general who commanded the military’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, sharply criticized the Department of Homeland Security for wearing military uniforms.
  • “That uniform represents the cloth of our nation for people who don’t draw overtime, who serve around the world at the direction of the national command authority,” Honoré said to MSNBC.
  • The optics of federal agents, who wore US Army uniforms in crackdowns on protesters, have concerned top Pentagon officials and lawmakers. Some armed activists have also worn pieces of the Army’s uniform or carried with them military-style gear to protests, making it even more difficult to differentiate civilians from law enforcement.
  • “Federal agents who are wearing camouflage in our streets and carrying out the orders of our corrupt president against Americans obviously have no understanding of our military’s most basic values — to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton, a former US Marine Corps infantry officer, told Insider.
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Retired US Army Gen. Russel Honoré, the three-star general who commanded the military’s and Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, sharply criticized the Department of Homeland Security’s controversial methods to quell to the ongoing protests in Portland, Oregon.

Several members of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, which operates under the DHS, wore the US Army’s camouflage uniform as they patrolled Portland’s streets last week in a mission officials said was to protect federal buildings that were vandalized by demonstrators.

The CBP agents, who were also kitted with the same woodland camouflage uniforms US troops wear in combat, were shown in numerous videos and pictures detaining and beating demonstrators. One video uploaded to social media channels showed an individual suspected of assault or property destruction being whisked away in an unmarked minivan, prompting state and congressional leaders to demand an investigation.

“That uniform represents the cloth of our nation for people who don’t draw overtime, who serve around the world at the direction of the national command authority,” Honoré said to MSNBC on Tuesday. “And is not to be used as an instrument of protest suppression.”

“That uniform is designed to blend into terrain, not to make you look like a warrior,” Honoré added, referring to the distinct woodland camouflage pattern designed to obscure troops’ outlines in battlegrounds like Afghanistan. “They’re wearing these uniforms as a function of intimidation to look like warriors.”

portland oregon federal agents
PreviousNext Police respond to protesters during a demonstration, Friday, July 17, 2020 in Portland, Ore.
Dave Killen/The Oregonian via Associated Press

‘Get the hell out of our uniforms’

Following President Donald Trump’s decision to broaden the duties of federal agencies to curb the protests across the country, specialized federal law enforcement units have been given paramilitary-like roles to suppress demonstrators.

Federal agents from agencies like the CBP’s immediate-response force, also known as the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC), were mobilized in an effort to protect federal buildings, despite resistance from state and local leaders. These units and other federal law enforcement agencies often wear the US Army’s camouflage uniform — BORTAC in particular has deployed to austere environments in the past, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

But concerns have grown as pictures of the uniformed personnel in Portland beating protesters with batons were widely publicized amid the federalized crackdown. The optics of the federal agents, who were confused with US service members, have concerned top Pentagon officials due to its implication.

US Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, previously highlighted his concerns, saying there needs to be clear “visual distinction” between the two organizations.

“You want a clear definition between that which is military and that which is police, in my view,” Milley said during a congressional hearing earlier in July. “Because when you start introducing the military, you’re talking about a different level of effort there.”

Gen. Honoré likened the federal agents’ actions against protesters as a “lawless group” who were “literally beating them with batons.”

“Police don’t do this, what kind of bull—- is this,” Honoré said. “Get the hell out of our uniforms.”

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A Customs and Border Protection patch for sale on eBay.
Screenshot via Ebay

Unit patches

The DHS and CBP have disputed the suggestion that their agents at the scene were unidentifiable “masked stormtroopers.”

CBP commissioner Mark Morgan on Tuesday pointed out that his agents wore patches to identify their agency, and that “it is offensive to refer to these dedicated men and women that are out there as law enforcement professionals.”

Examples of their patches worn on their uniforms or protective vests include a unique string of numbers and letters for internal purposes; a distinct “POLICE” velcro patch; or the CBP’s own logo.

But both the Army’s uniforms and law enforcement patches are also available for purchase online by the general public, fueling concerns that a renegade group would be able to mimic the same tactics used by the federal agents — particularly in the scenario with unmarked minivans seen in recent videos.

And for many observers, including seasoned US service members and civil-rights groups, the visibility of the patches are often overshadowed by the military uniforms or even obscured by the fog of war during a time of crisis.

Members of specialized response teams, such as BORTAC, previously wore distinct uniforms depending on their location and circumstance. BORTAC members wore an olive-green uniform, without a camouflage pattern, that is currently worn by ordinary Border Patrol officers.

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A militia member in Oakdale, California.
Screenshot via CBS Sacramento.

More patches, more confusion.

Several people have already been arrested after they were accused of posing as members of the military and law enforcement during the George Floyd protests.

In Los Angeles, Gregory Wong was taken into custody after he wore similar attire to a National Guard member ABC7 reported, citing sources. Wong, who was armed with an AR-15-type rifle and a pistol, was spotted by actual National Guard members after he fell into formation with them, the outlet said.

At a protest in Las Vegas, Zachary Sanns was charged with false impersonation of a federal officer, according to 8 News Now. Prosecutors reportedly said he stood on alongside police officers while armed with an AR-15-type rifle and wearing tactical gear.

Other activists, such as members of the Boogaloo movement, have also worn pieces of the Army’s uniform or carried with them military-style gear to the same protests throughout the country — adding to the confusion in identifying actual law enforcement agents from others groups.

Members of movements like the Boogaloo and the Three Percenters militia often wear several velcro patches on their outfits in a similar arrangement to that of active-duty US service members, making themselves difficult to identify for those unfamiliar with military customs and regulations.

Agent Alex Suarez with the U.S. Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) guards the U.S. side of the border wall with Mexico in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. October 17, 2018.
A BORTAC agent guards the US side of the border wall with Mexico in Brownsville, Texas, October 17, 2018.
Reuters

Some of these visibly armed activists also wear the same specialty patches worn by US troops upon completion of the military’s specialty schools, such as the US Army’s Airborne or Ranger School, likely in reference to their past achievements if they previously served in the military.

A Pentagon spokesman on Tuesday echoed Gen. Milley’s view and said Defense Secretary Mark Esper has made the Trump administration aware of his concerns with the appropriation of the US military’s uniforms.

“We saw this take place back in June, when there were some law enforcement that wore uniforms that make them appear military,” Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said to reporters, referencing the George Floyd protests throughout the country earlier this year.

“The secretary has a expressed a concern of this within the administration, that we want a system where people can tell the difference,” he added.

Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton, a former US Marine Corps infantry officer, questioned the presence of camouflage uniforms on urban streets and likened it to “the president’s secret police.”

“Federal agents who are wearing camouflage in our streets and carrying out the orders of our corrupt president against Americans obviously have no understanding of our military’s most basic values — to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Moulton said to Insider.

“The use of these shadow forces by President Trump and the acting DHS secretary is deeply disrespectful to our military men and women in uniform who risk their lives abroad to fight for the rights our Constitution guarantees us.

“We shouldn’t just tell these police officers to change out of camouflage, we should do away with BORTAC … so that federal law enforcement masquerading as military can never again be used as the president’s secret police,” Moulton added.

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