$740 billion defense bill bans federal law enforcement and troops from hiding their identities while responding to protests

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$740 billion defense bill bans federal law enforcement and troops from hiding their identities while responding to protests
Federal Bureau of Prisons officers and other law enforcement block 16th Street, NW during protests over the death of George Floyd, in Washington, DC, June 3, 2020.BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images
  • A provision of the final version of the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act bars federal law-enforcement personnel and members of the armed forces from hiding their identities while responding to civil disturbances.
  • The practice caused concern as some unmarked federal law enforcement officials responded to protests and unrest this past summer.
  • President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the annual defense spending bill for unrelated reasons.

A bipartisan $740.5 billion defense bill for fiscal year 2021 bars federal law-enforcement officers and members of the armed forces from hiding their identities while responding to civil disturbances.

The latest version of the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act states that members of the armed forces, to include the National Guard, and federal law-enforcement agencies responding to domestic unrest must "visibly display" either their name or a unique identifier as well as the name of the service or agency of which they are a part.

This past summer, the presence of unidentifiable federal law-enforcement personnel in the nation's capital and elsewhere amid protests after the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed in police custody in Minneapolis, caused alarm.

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In Washington, DC, reporters who questioned the affiliation of some federal officers, which lacked any clear identifiers in a number of cases, were given vague answers, such as "Department of Justice."

Former DoJ spokesman Matthew Miller tweeted in response to those reports that "there is no generic DoJ police force, obviously."

"No badges, no identifying info, refusal to say who they represent - it's like Russia's little green men have taken over the nation's capital," he wrote, referencing the unmarked Russian troops who appeared in Crimea before Russia illegally annexed the Ukrainian territory in 2014.

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It was later determined that the personnel in Washington, DC, were members of the Bureau of Prisons.

Later in the summer, there were reports of unidentified Department of Homeland Security personnel in camouflage detaining protesters in unmarked vehicles during protests in Portland, Oregon.

The defense bill would prohibit such behavior, except in cases where personnel are not required to wear a uniform or in undercover situations.

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The bill, a compromise between the Democrat-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate, also includes requirements that will affect local law enforcement, specifically their acquisition of Department of Defense equipment.

In particular, it states that certain weapons, such as bayonets, grenades (not including stun and flash bang), weaponized tracked combat vehicles, and weaponized drones are not permitted to be transferred from the US military to law enforcement.

President Donald Trump, who faced sharp criticism for his militaristic response to the protests this summer, has repeatedly threatened to veto the annual defense spending bill if it includes provisions to change the names of military installations named after Confederate leaders or if it fails to include a repeal of Section 230, a law that offers legal immunity for third-party content, such as social-media posts.

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The defense bill includes the former and lacks the latter. Trump tweeted a handful of criticisms of the NDAA on Friday morning, writing at the end of the most recent tweet: "I will VETO!"

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