DHS's Wolf: Trump admin 'working on' Black Lives Matter charges

Team Trump will take seriously the possibility of a perceived domestic security threat, but only if it fits into their ideological predispositions.
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President Donald Trump speaks to members of the border patrol as Acting secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf looks on in Yuma, Ariz., on Aug. 18, 2020.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images
By Steve Benen

When Elizabeth Neumann was a Trump-appointed official at the Department of Homeland Security, she served as assistant secretary for threat prevention and security policy. Her focus, as her title suggested, was focused on identifying possible domestic security threats.

What Neumann discovered, however, was that it was effectively impossible to convince Donald Trump to take seriously the threat posed by violent right-wing extremists. The president, the then-leading official at DHS came to realize, simply wouldn't listen. (Neumann, who voted for Trump in 2016, publicly endorsed Joe Biden last week.)

It appears, however, that Team Trump will take seriously the possibility of a perceived domestic security threat, just so long as it fits into the White House's ideological predispositions. TPM noted this morning:

Acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Chad Wolf stated that the Justice Department is looking into arresting leaders of Black Lives Matter (BLM) amid protests over the shooting of Jacob Blake by police officer Rusten Sheskey.

Fox News' Tucker Carlson pressed the acting Homeland Security chief on possible criminal charges against "the leaders of antifa and BLM." Wolf said he'd spoken directly to Attorney General Bill Barr about this, adding, "I know that they are working on it."

The acting secretary added that the Justice Department is “targeting and investigating the head of these organizations, the individuals that are paying for these individuals to move across the country.” Asked about punishing protest "funders," Wolf went on to say, “Again, I would say that again the Department of Justice, who has the lead in all of those investigations, are certainly moving as quickly as possible."

A few hours earlier, Donald Trump stood at the podium in the White House briefing room and declared, "The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice are announcing a joint operation center to investigate the violent, left-wing civil unrest."

The president, naturally, made no reference to right-wing violence.

It's difficult to say with confidence what to make of rhetoric like this. It's certainly possible that Trump has no idea what he's talking about, there is no "joint operation center," and Chad Wolf made baseless on-air comments as a way of making Tucker Carlson happy during an interview the president was likely watching.

It's also possible that leading Trump administration officials are gearing up to prosecute Americans the president perceives as menacing enemies. Barr has already demonstrated an eagerness to politicize federal law enforcement, so it's hardly outrageous to think this would be the next step.

Watch this space.