Attorney General Bill Barr compared coronavirus lockdowns around the country to house arrest and said that, “other than slavery,” the restrictions are the “greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history," during an appearance Wednesday at Hillsdale College.
"You know, putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders, is like house arrest,” Barr told a friendly audience at the conservative Michigan school during a question-and-answer session. “Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.”
Barr also took shots at governors who have implemented stringent coronavirus restrictions that he believes “defy common sense,” saying that they “treat free citizens as babies that can't take responsibility for themselves and others."
“All this nonsense about how something is ‘dictated by science’ is nonsense,” Barr said.
During the same appearance where he insisted that coronavirus lockdowns rank right behind slavery in terms of injustice, Barr attacked the Black Lives Matter movement.
“They’re not interested in Black lives,” Barr said. “They’re interested in props, a small number of Blacks who are killed by police during conflicts with police — usually less than a dozen a year — who they can use as props to achieve a much broader political agenda.”
In 2019, 250 Black people were shot and killed by police, according to the Washington Post’s police shootings database, and that’s not counting non-shootings such as George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police in May or Daniel Prude’s killing in Rochester in March.
Barr has been extremely critical of the protests that exploded after George Floyd’s killing: He recently told prosecutors to consider charging “violent” protesters with sedition, or plotting to overthrow the government, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. He also asked the Justice Department’s civil rights division to consider bringing charges against Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan for allowing demonstrators to set up the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone over the summer, the Journal reported.
Earlier this month, Barr said it was a “false narrative” that there’s a widespread problem of the police killing Black people. Instead, Barr insisted on Wednesday, the bigger problem is so-called Black on Black crime.
“I view the question of Black lives as not only keeping people alive but also having prosperity and flourishing in their communities,” Barr said. “Most deaths in the inner city of young Black males below the age of 44, the leading cause of death is being shot by another Black person. And that’s crime.”
Homicide was the leading cause of death among Black males under the age of 44 in 2017, according to the CDC. But in the years of growth for the Black Lives Matter following the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman, the largely decentralized protest movement has also advocated for economic and social justice and reducing gun violence, as have other organizations, groups, and activists allied with the movement.
Additionally, most violent crime is intraracial. Most murders against white victims, for example, are committed by other white people, FBI statistics have shown.
Barr also took the opportunity to slam his own Justice Department prosecutors, equating them to pre-schoolers. Barr has been heavily criticized by current and former prosecutors who say he’s undermined them and done President Donald Trump’s political bidding.
Earlier this year, for example, four federal prosecutors in the Roger Stone case abruptly quit after Barr stepped in to recommend a shorter sentence than they had. Stone was eventually sentenced to three years in prison, but Trump later commuted that.
“They do not have the political legitimacy to be the public face of tough decisions and they lack the political buy-in necessary to publicly defend those decisions,” Barr said of career DOJ prosecutors during his prepared remarks at Hillsdale.
“Name one successful organization where the lowest-level employees’ decisions are deemed sacrosanct. There aren’t any,” Barr said. “Letting the most junior members set the agenda might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it’s no way to run a federal agency.”
Cover: Attorney General William Barr speaks during a press conference about Operation Legend at the Dirksen Federal Building Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Chicago. (Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)