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Trump’s DHS treated protesters like terrorists, report shows

A Department of Homeland Security report shows how the Trump administration falsely categorized people as threats during George Floyd protests in 2020.


In 2020, as racial justice activists took to the streets to protest the murder of George Floyd, then-President Donald Trump and fellow Republicans saw an opportunity to castigate the demonstrators and weaponize white anger over the protests as a means to take more violent action against the largely Black masses gathering in Floyd’s honor. 

In 2020, Trump threatened to designate antifa — that is, self-identified anti-fascists whom Republicans baselessly scapegoat for violence — as a terrorist organization. The move was an effort to ignite fury over the protests while targeting people critical of Trump’s administration.

Now, we have more evidence of just how far Trump officials went to paint the protesters as literal terrorists as the protests unfolded.

An internal report out of the Department of Homeland Security shows the agency sought to categorize protesters as “violent antifa anarchists.” The agency compiled information on them in the same way that DHS compiles dossiers on people accused of “attacks on critical infrastructure, law enforcement resources, or for potential acts of domestic terrorism,” according to the report. 

The report was originally released last year but was just shared in unredacted form by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. According to the report, DHS employees were sent to Portland, Oregon, without the proper training to collect the kinds of information they were being asked to assemble on protesters — efforts that gave the false impression Portland was facing a serious threat of terrorism and baselessly classified protesters as nefarious actors.

All of this came as Trump and fellow Republicans were encouraging armed federal and local officers to act violently to put down the protests. Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton’s screed calling for a violent crackdown, published by The New York Times, is one of the most infamous declarations from that time. 

The report highlights DHS intelligence official Brian Murphy, who apparently loathed government oversight, as a key cog in the effort. 

The report shows that Murphy oversaw a “demeaning, dismissive and degrading” branch in DHS. Officials sent to Portland were encouraged to classify their findings as “Violent Antifa Anarchists Inspired” threats and advised to assemble dossiers on those responsible, including by scouring social media platforms. But the report found that top DHS officials rarely trained their personnel on how to differentiate a threat from, say, someone exercising their First Amendment rights, meaning that many of the people had DHS reports written on them for no apparent reason.

Dossiers were created for some people who were accused of merely failing to comply, according to the report. “Others had no reasons listed for arrest,” the report said.

The report read

A major deficiency in the deployment of [DHS] personnel to Portland was the deployment of inexperienced, inadequately trained junior collectors without any sort of pre-deployment training offered to help address their underdeveloped understanding of true threats, First Amendment protections, collection requirements, and national intelligence and DHS departmental mission sets.

According to the report, a DHS official said people collecting info were dubiously incentivized to seek out threats, comparing staffers to a bunch of sixth-graders “chasing a soccer ball — everyone wanted to be the collector who found the golden egg or found the threat.”

All of this just bolsters the claims that many protesters made — of a corrupt, overextended and poorly trained law enforcement apparatus that demonized and preyed upon the vulnerable — when they demonstrated in Floyd’s name.

Trump and other members of his administration publicly denounced those claims. But the DHS report shows that those allegations undeniably hold weight.