The Drug Enforcement Administration has just been granted a new authority to “conduct covert surveillance” and gather information about the people who are participating in the protests over George Floyd’s killing.
In a two-page memorandum obtained by BuzzFeed, the administration states Floyd’s death “has spawned widespread protests across the nation, which, in some instances, have included violence and looting. Police agencies in certain areas of the country have struggled to maintain and/or restore order.” The memo goes on to say that the administration is asking to be given more powers temporarily; a senior Justice Department official, along with Donald Trump, signed off on the request on Sunday, the outlet reports.
On Saturday, Attorney General William Barr issued a statement claiming that the protests are the result of “anarchistic and far-left extremists, using Antifa-like tactics,” despite having no evidence. Barr said the FBI, DEA, US Marshals, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives would be “deployed to support local efforts to enforce federal law.” While the DEA is limited by statute to enforce drug-related federal crimes, BuzzFeed reports that on Sunday, Timothy Shea, who has been appointed acting administrator of the DEA, received approval from the Associate Deputy Attorney General G. Bradley Weinsheimer to exceed their regular authorities and “perform other law enforcement duties” that Barr might “deem appropriate.”
In addition to surveilling protestors, the memo states DEA agents would also be permitted to share information they collect with local and state law enforcement officials who could potentially get involved in order to “protect both participants and spectators in the protests.” The information they collect will also be used to investigate individuals who have broken the law while protesting.
Shea believes the DEA should be given new responsibilities. “In order for DEA to assist to the maximum extent possible in the federal law enforcement response to protests which devolve into violations of federal law, DEA requests that it be designated to enforce any federal crime committed as a result of protests over the death of George Floyd. DEA requests this authority on a nationwide basis for a period of fourteen days,” said Shea.
Hugh Handeyside, a senior attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, opposes the DEA scoping out protests, saying it goes against citizens’ First Amendment rights. “Drug enforcement agents should not be conducting covert surveillance of protests, and First Amendment protected speech. That kind of monitoring and information sharing may well constitute unwarranted investigation of people exercising their constitutional rights to seek justice. The executive branch continues to run headlong in the wrong direction,” said Handeyside.
Trump has since mobilized “all available federal resources — civilian and military — to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson, and to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights.”