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National Guard major: Military police asked about using ‘heat ray’ against DC protesters

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Bishop slams Trump after protesters forced out near St. John’s church

Police used gas to clear protesters from Lafayette Park before President Donald Trump walked over and held a Bible up at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

WASHINGTON — Federal police asked the National Guard whether they had a “heat ray” officers could use against protesters gathered near the White House earlier this summer, according to a letter sent to Congress from a senior officer involved with responding to the protest. 

The inquiry for these tools came just hours before demonstrators protesting on the evening of June 1, following the death of George Floyd, were forcibly removed from the Lafayette Square in Washington D.C. by authorities, some on horseback, using chemical irritants, rubber bullets and shields.

President Donald Trump then walked with members of his administration to historic St. John’s Church, and posed with a Bible, drawing wide condemnation. 

More: How police pushed aside protesters ahead of Trump’s controversial church photo

In written responses to the House Committee on Natural Resources, which were obtained and shared by NPR, D.C. National Guard Maj. Adam DeMarco said he was copied on an email from the Provost Marshal of Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region who was seeking two things: A device called the Active Denial System, or ADS and a Long-Range Acoustic Device, also known as the LRAD.

ADS is a weapon designed by the military that uses short radio waves that “provides a sensation of intense heat on the surface of the skin,” according to the written statements. This causes an intense burning feeling, leading to the tool also being called a “heat ray” or the “Pain Ray.”

According to DeMarco, the email stated the lead military police officers were interested in the ADS as it could “immediately compel an individual to cease threatening behavior” and that the “effect is overwhelming, causing an immediate repel response by the targeted individual.”

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Developed by the military as a crowd dispersal tool decades ago, the ADS has largely been abandoned  amid doubt of its effectiveness and ethical questions.

The tool causes searing pain, but no actual physical damage.

This is not the first report of an ADS inquiry during the Trump era. Reports emerged at the end of August that just a few weeks before the 2018 midterms, as Trump was issuing dire warnings of caravans heading to the U.S. border and demanding “extreme action” to stop them, Customs and Border Protection officials  raised the idea of deploying the weapon to officials at the Department of Homeland Security.

It was shot down by Kirstjen Nielsen, then the secretary of homeland security.

DeMarco additionally wrote that the Provost Marshal requested a long-range acoustic device that is frequently used to disperse crowds. The LRAD releases a piercing noise that allows a broadcast voice or recording to then play at a deafening level, allowing people at the back of crowds to hear.

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The LRAD is often used in such instances but was reportedly not used on June 1. Protesters in Lafayette Square and near the White House that day said police gave little, if no, warning. NPR reported last week that by not using one, officers may have violated court-ordered regulations.

Under a 2015 settlement, federal police are now required to give large crowds several advance warnings to disperse and must be loud enough to be heard from blocks away before aggressive tactics, such as chemical irritants, are used against them. The LRAD would have achieved this.

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Constitutional rights attorney Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, who filed a lawsuit that led to the 2015 guidelines, said, “There is zero evidence that there were any officers who can testify that they were in the farthest reaches of the crowd.” 

“There has to be documentation that the notice was given multiple times, and there are supposed to be recordings made that the notice was given. We wrote all these in specifically for this reason. In fact, unfortunately, it would appear in anticipation of what happened in Lafayette Park,” she continued.

Gregory Monahan, acting chief of U.S. Park Police, told lawmakers in July that his officers abided by rules of that agreement. “The protocol was followed.”

More: National Guard major tells lawmakers he saw ‘excessive’ force used on protesters near the White House

DeMarco wrote to the committee that he responded about a half-hour later after receiving the email that “the D.C. National Guard was not in possession of either an LRAD or an ADS.”

Providing his account as a whistleblower, DeMarco was senior-most D.C. National Guard officer on the ground that day, serving as a liaison between the National Guard and U.S. Park Police.

DeMarco’s account contradicts the Trump administration’s claims that the protesters were being violent which prompted the clearing, demonstrators were given time to disperse after a clear warning, and tear gas was never used.

Tear gas vs. pepper spray: Debate over methods used to clear Lafayette Square turns political

The Trump administration has denied any connection between the photo op and the clearing of protesters and has denied the use of tear gas on them.

Contributing: Nicholas Wu, John Fritze, Tom Vanden Brook

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