Attorney General William Barr is expected to defend the aggressive response of federal law enforcement to civil unrest in American cities during a House hearing Tuesday, saying “violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests” in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“What unfolds nightly around the courthouse cannot reasonably be called a protest; it is, by any objective measure, an assault on the Government of the United States,” Barr is expected to tell members of the House Judiciary Committee in his testimony on Tuesday.
In prepared remarks, released by the Justice Department on Monday, Barr decries the violence taking place in Portland and other cities, claiming that they are disconnected from the death of Floyd, which he described as a “horrible” event. He then simultaneously undermines the message of racial justice demanded by protesters in written remarks by saying that although Floyd’s death was “ a shocking event,” the police killing of as he puts it “unarmed” black men is “fortunately quite rare.”
According to written remarks, Barr will go on to rebuke the “demonization of police” and will suggest that crime rates increase when communities “turn on” their police because that makes police more “risk averse and crime rates soar.”
The testimony indicates a line of argument from the attorney general that seeks to uncouple protests from the death of Floyd, and to paint protesters as a largely violent mob.
“Largely absent from these scenes of destruction are even superficial attempts by the rioters to connect their actions to George Floyd’s death or any legitimate call for reform,” Barr is expected to say of the Portland protests.
Civil unrest escalated in Portland after reports surfaced that masked and unidentified federal agents in camouflage fatigues were grabbing protesters off the streets in Portland in unmarked cars without probable cause. Mark Pettibone, earlier this month described that he was detained in such a manner for questioning while on his way home from a protest and later released without charges.
Barr’s prepared remarks come as Congress and the public pay respects to the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, who once praised racial justice protesters for getting into “good trouble” following Floyd’s killing.
The attorney general has defended as necessary the dispatch of federal agents, including in Washington, D.C. when on June 1 Barr accompanied President Donald Trump to a photo op in front of a church after federal officers were ordered to aggressively disperse peaceful protesters from a park using projectiles and chemical irritants.
The Justice Department’s internal watchdog has since opened investigations into use of force and other aggressive tactics by agents in both cities.
The hearing on Tuesday marks Barr’s first appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, a panel that voted last year to hold him in contempt. It comes as many have accused Barr of making decisions that favor Trump.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday on MSNBC that Democrats want to question Barr about how Trump “is undermining the Constitution of the United States.”
In his prepared remarks Barr speaks to his tense relationship with Democrats by accusing them of trying to “discredit me by conjuring up a narrative that I am simply the President’s factotum who disposes of criminal cases according to his instructions.”
Barr has previously rebuffed the House committee and Pelosi told MSNBC Monday that “we hope that he will show up.”