Washington’s mayor has called on Donald Trump to withdraw thousands of national guard soldiers and federal law enforcement officers from the capital, complaining about unidentified units operating outside the police chain of command.
On Friday morning, the 200-strong Utah national guard contingent were packing their bags and preparing to leave their hotel by noon. Mike Lee, a Republican senator from the state, said they, and hundreds of other national guard troops, were being kicked out of their hotels by the Washington mayor, Muriel Bowser. There was no immediate response to a request for comment from Bowser’s office.
Lee’s office said it was unclear where the Utah troops, who include Green Berets, would go, but they would not be leaving Washington.
“Lodging and accommodations are still up in the air for this evening,” a spokeswoman said.
On Trump’s order, about 4,500 national guard troops from around the country were flown to Washington early this week, and a wide assortment of special units from the Bureau of Prisons, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI and the US Marshal’s Service.
Several of those units – including military police, United States park police and Secret Service – were involved in violent scenes on Tuesday when officers fired teargas and rubber bullets to clear peaceful protesters from outside the White House.
Since then, groups of uniformed officers in helmets and body armour – often without identifying insignia – have appeared in Washington, expanding a security perimeter around the White House into the city’s commercial district – and prompting questions about who was in control of the streets and the public right of way.
When reporters asked one group about their affiliation, an officer replied “DoJ”, the Department of Justice, but would not be more specific. All the federal law enforcement agencies deployed in Washington are reporting to the attorney general, William Barr, who has been the architect of the heavy military presence and who told state governors on Monday: “Law enforcement response is not going to work unless we dominate the streets.”
In a letter to the president, Mayor Bowser, said: “I continue to be concerned that unidentified federal personnel patrolling the streets of Washington DC pose both safety and national security risks.
“Our police and incident command have clear channels of communication and roles, and it is important to note that these additional unidentified units are operating outside of established chains of command,” Bowser wrote. “This multiplicity of forces can breed dangerous confusion.”
The presence of elite units such as the Green Berets has raised concern because of the symbolism of sending combat troops, and the unsuitability of their training for responding to protests.
Other units sent on to Washington streets included the FBI’s hostage rescue team and prison riot control officers.
The Bureau of Prisons director, Michael Carvajal, argued that federal prison guards were “often called upon to assist during crisis situations within our communities”.
But Deborah Golden, a Washington lawyer specialising in prisoners’ rights said that correctional officers are trained in a completely different environment from public demonstrations. Protests are restricted in prisons and officers are entitled to use much greater force.
Golden said on Twitter: “They aren’t trained for the job they’ve been put in. And it’s a set up for disaster.”
On Thursday evening, the federal presence was much lighter than the previous two days, but there were still national guard armoured patrol vehicles parked every few blocks of the commercial district.
An 8ft metal fence has been erected around the White House grounds, held in place by concrete barriers.
Groups of unarmed DC national guard and air national guard were present around the Lincoln Memorial, but not the massed phalanx on the monument’s steps that had caused alarm on Wednesday.
In her letter, Bowser pointed out that the Washington metropolitan police had not carried out a single arrest at the demonstrations since Wednesday night, and she was ending the state of emergency in the district.
“Therefore I’m requesting that you withdraw all extraordinary federal law enforcement and military presence from Washington DC,” the mayor told Trump.
The mayor underlined her defiance of the president by giving permission for the words “Black Lives Matter” to be painted in giant yellow letters on the road leading to the White House. The painting began in the early hours of Friday morning and was finished before noon.
She told journalists the last block of 16th St before the White House, would officially be renamed “Black Lives Matter Plaza”.