Report: DOJ Is Targeting BLM Demonstrators As Domestic Terrorists
Attorney General William Barr’s Justice Department is targeting Black Lives Matter demonstrators with federal prosecutions for civil disturbances that could see protesters spending decades in prison, according to VICE News.
- Under President Donald Trump, the DOJ is using “tools developed to fight terrorists against those who stand accused of violence that has infrequently accompanied demonstrations against police brutality,” the report stated.
- Career prosecutors say the federal prosecutions are the type that typically would be handled by more local jurisdictions.
- The federal charges could lead to decades-long prison sentences in some cases:
For example, of the cases reviewed by VICE News, at least 12 involved situations where the defendants were accused of damaging property used in “interstate commerce,” such as a police car, or attempting to do so. In one case, in New Jersey, a 21-year-old accused of trying to light a cloth stuffed into a police car’s gas tank now faces up to 20 years in federal prison, according to government documents. In another, a 26-year-old who allegedly threw an accelerant on a burning cop car in Utah could spend a decade behind bars. He’s being held, without bail, until his trial.
Others were hit with federal charges for blocking cops’ ability to oversee interstate commerce, or because their alleged means of communication was inherently interstate, such as a man who was charged with threatening to start a riot on his social media posts.
- VICE News reported that federal prosecutors generally “don’t consider individual cases of vandalism, defacing property, or even rioting to be worthy of federal charges — or on par with terrorist acts, as the Trump administration has suggested” — leading some to suspect politics are at play.
“Those are traditionally treated as state crimes or normal federal crimes,” said Patrick Cotter, a former prosecutor from the Eastern District of New York. “The politics of the defendants certainly sound like they are playing a role in the DOJ decisions as to who to target. That, of course, is improper in the most profound sense. But not surprising for this DOJ.”
- None of the former federal prosecutors who spoke with VICE News believed the federal charges are illegal, but they were surprised by “how frequently prosecutors are taking on what would otherwise be more local cases.”
“It’s taking place on city property. It’s a city police car. There are local laws that deal with all of these things, and it just happens to happen in the course of a protest,” said Rachel Barkow, faculty director of the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law NYU School of Law. Barkow also previously served as a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
- Barkow said while the DOJ can file these charges, it is more a matter of discretion: “And that to me is what’s really disturbing about these cases. Why are they doing it? Because they don’t have to. By taking it federally and by bringing charges that have such grotesquely long punishments, it’s hard to read these cases as anything other than political theater.”
- Barbara McQuade, the former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, told VICE News that the DOJ’s focus on the protests is not necessarily improper but said she was concerned about Barr’s use of the term ‘antifa’ in describing rioters.
“If there are no allegations in any of these cases that antifa was involved, then it’s inappropriate for William Barr to be making statements about antifa’s involvement,” McQuade said. “To suggest that he knows something you don’t know, without being able to back it up with filed criminal charges, is inappropriate.”
VICE News noted that the DOJ’s focus on protesters appears to be lopsided, given that it has paid far less attention to those protesting against coronavirus lockdowns — even when those protesters were armed.
Over the last few months, multiple high-profile “anti-lockdown” protests have broken out over restrictions enacted to combat the coronavirus. In photos, many of those protesters — who were overwhelmingly white — were armed. Over the weekend, images of a white couple pointing firearms at anti-police violence protesters in St. Louis also went viral. In an incident report, police described the couple as the victims, according to the Washington Post.
The DOJ didn’t respond to a VICE News inquiry about how its various U.S. attorneys general offices chose which protest-linked cases to pursue and how the offices coordinated their effort.
“I’d be curious how many ‘domestic terrorism’ cases they have opened against people who storm state houses while armed with weapons, or who threaten violence against ‘left’ protestors and politicians, or otherwise engage in organizations that preach race war and violence,” Cotter said.