Defense Secretary Mark Esper has raised concerns within the Trump administration about federal agents patrolling the streets of U.S. cities in camouflage uniforms similar to those worn by troops in war zones, Jonathan Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesperson said on Tuesday.

According to Hoffman, Esper has said that “we want a system where people can tell the difference.”

“We saw this take place back in June when there were some law enforcement that wear uniforms that make them appear military in appearance,” Hoffman said.

Esper expressed concern that in some cases, federal law enforcement officers were being confused with troops because federal officers are wearing the same uniforms. This follows the nationwide protests, looting, and violence over the killing of George Floyd in June.

The defense secretary wants law enforcement officers and military personnel to have different uniforms in order to be distinguishable. And the wearing of MultiCam camouflage uniforms in an urban environment is of dubious usefulness anyway. 

Hoffman’s comments and Esper’s concerns come at a time when there were reports of numerous federal agents dressed like military troops descending into Portland, Oregon, this week on the orders of the president. President Trump threatened to send additional agents into other major cities, including New York and Philadelphia, if the “liberal Democrats” in charge do not gain control of their cities and stop the lawlessness. 

Portland especially has been a hotspot this week. The administration has sent the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and a U.S. Customs and Border Protection teams into Portland. This is very much against the wishes of Democratic Mayor Ted Wheeler.

Wheeler has said that small groups of violent activists were drowning out the message of peaceful protesters. He blamed federal officers for making the situation worse. 

“Keep your troops in your own buildings, or have them leave our city,” Wheeler said late last week. “The words and actions from [sic] President Trump and the Department of Homeland Security have shown that this is an attack on our democracy.”

During her scheduled Tuesday briefing, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended the president’s decision to send federal officers to Portland.

“The Portland mob has become increasingly aggressive,” she said, adding that violent protesters threw “chunks of concrete, feces, balloons filled with paint, slingshots … pig feet and batteries” at officers protecting federal buildings.

“President Trump is taking action in Portland, even though you have a Democrat mayor and governor unwilling to work with us.” McEnany added: “The bottom line is this president stands with law and order, which leads to peace, and we will not allow Portland to become the new CHOP, like we saw in Seattle.”

Despite the confusion over the uniforms, Hoffman reiterated “unequivocally” to the media that there are no plans to send active-duty troops to Portland. Under the Posse Comitatus Act, active-duty military troops cannot be deployed in a law enforcement operation unless the president orders them there under the Insurrection Act.

Back in early July, following protests in Washington and elsewhere, Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told the House Armed Services Committee that the need to better differentiate between law enforcement and the military is very important. The chairman specifically mentioned the uniforms. 

“Our guys are wearing, you know, camouflage uniforms; some of these police are in blue uniforms, others in camouflage, others are in solid green,” Milley said. “You want a clear definition between that which is military and that which are police, in my view.”

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