Trump Is Sending Secret Police to American Cities. Here's What We Know.

"Operation Legend" is freaking out mayors and governors, who worry Trump’s “secret police” might run amok like they have in Portland.
A federal officer pushes back demonstrators at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, in Portland, Ore.
AP Photo/Noah Berger

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.

WASHINGTON — President Trump is sending hundreds of federal agents to fight violent crime in American cities.

And it’s freaking out mayors and governors, who worry Trump’s “secret police” might run amok.

The plan is called “Operation Legend,” and it kicked into high gear Wednesday, when Trump announced that over 200 officers are heading to Chicago and Albuquerque in the coming days, and to more destinations soon. In a brief, ominous speech, Trump cast American cities as crime-scarred hellholes abandoned by their squeamish Democratic leaders, and desperately in need of federal intervention.


“Today I’m announcing a surge of federal law enforcement into American communities plagued by violent crime,” Trump said. “This bloodshed must end. This bloodshed will end.”

Local politicians worry Trump’s feds may bring the controversial tactics they’ve used against Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland, Oregon, where unidentified officers in combat fatigues have beaten and fired projectiles at BLM protesters and even snatched them off the streets in unmarked cars.

READ MORE: Here's Why Cities Won't Be Able to Stop Trump's Secret Police

What’s more, Trump is explicitly targeting cities run by Democrats, prompting dark suspicions that the program is primarily a political stunt designed to flesh out Trump’s “Law & order” 2020 campaign theme.

Trump’s feds might be coming soon to a city near you. Here’s what you need to know about “Operation Legend.”

What is Operation Legend?

Operation Legend began as a pilot program in Kansas City, Missouri, earlier this month. The campaign was named after LeGend Taliferro, a 4-year-old boy who was shot and killed in his sleep when someone opened fire on his family’s apartment.

Missouri’s governor had invited federal forces to help tamp down the city’s crime rate. But the move surprised the mayor of Kansas City, who said he only learned about it on Twitter.

Attorney General Bill Barr dispatched over 200 officers to Kansas City from the FBI, U.S. Marshal Service, DEA and ATF and the Department of Homeland Security — the same agencies now sending forces to Chicago. During its first two weeks in Kansas City, the program resulted in dozens of arrests, Barr said.


About 200 federal agents are now on their way to Chicago, and about 35 are headed to Albuquerque. Trump said earlier this week he may also send feds to Baltimore, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Oakland.

Portland all over again?

The plan is causing alarm because Trump’s agents have used aggressive and possibly illegal tactics against protesters in Portland. The state’s attorney General filed a lawsuit on Friday accusing them of violating demonstrators’ Constitutional rights to due process, freedom from arbitrary arrest and freedom of speech.

Portland isn’t technically part of Operation Legend, however — and Trump’s officials insist it’s a different thing. The federal deployment in Portland is aimed at protecting federal property from large public disruptions caused by demonstrators, they said. The goal of Operation Legend is to push down rates of homicide.

Trump’s officials have implied that the tactics used by officers in the field will be different, although they haven’t specified exactly how.

“The operations we’re talking about [in Operation Legend] are the standard, anti-crimefighting activities we have been carrying out around the country for decades,” Barr said. The agents will be “working to solve murders and to take down the violent gangs.”

At the same time, however, Trump’s officials argue that everything they’re doing in Portland is just fine, too — although plenty of Constitutional and legal scholars would beg to differ.


It remains to be seen whether Trump’s forces will be more restrained in Chicago than they’ve been in Portland.

‘No place for Trump's secret police in our city’

Trump’s team stressed they’ll be cooperating with local law enforcement, but some locals clearly don’t want them there.

“There is no place for Trump's secret police in our city,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement.

Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, cautiously welcomed a “partnership” with federal law enforcement, but warned them to tread carefully. She said she’d never “allow Donald Trump’s troops to come to Chicago and terrorize our residents.”

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner warned he wouldn’t hold back from slapping federal agents with state criminal charges if they came to his city and pulled Portland-style antics.

“Anyone, including federal law enforcement, who unlawfully assaults and kidnaps people will face criminal charges from my office,” Krasner said in a statement.

Can they be stopped?

Despite all the hand-wringing, mayors and governors could have a hard time actually stopping Trump’s feds from showing up and acting out.

Federal officials have robust authority to protect federal property, like the courthouse in Portland where protesters have been turning out to demonstrate.

“It will be difficult for state officials to stop them, because federal authority is about more than just protecting federal monuments and bridges,” said Jens David Ohlin, vice dean of Cornell Law School. “It’s also about investigating and enforcing federal offenses, which can occur anywhere.”

Cover: A federal officer pushes back demonstrators at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)