Fact check: Obama did not sign a law authorizing federal agents to arrest protesters

Chelsey Cox, USA TODAY
·4 mins read

The claim: President Obama signed a law authorizing federal agents to snatch protesters off the street in Portland

A version of this claim was posted on the Facebook page for Think Liberty, a libertarian news and media website, on July 20.

The post is a meme with a picture of a smiling former President Barack Obama below a caption that reads, "When everyone just blames Trump but forgets who actually signed the law authorizing federal agents to snatch (protesters) off the streets in Portland."

The law in question is not mentioned in the meme or the post caption.

Federal authorities dispatched by President Donald Trump in July faced off with Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland, Oregon after months of demonstrations following the Memorial Day death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, USA TODAY reported.

Acting U.S. Customs and Border Control Commissioner Mark Morgan said agents were deployed to protect a federal courthouse from vandalism.

“Criminals, armed with weapons, continue to organize attacks on Federal property in Portland,” Morgan tweeted, according to USA TODAY.

Video recordings showed agents in unmarked vehicles detaining people without explanation before driving off. USA TODAY reported on a lawsuit brought by protesters against the Trump administration for allowing agents to fire nonlethal munitions on peaceful demonstrators.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement July 29 that the federal government agreed to a "phased withdrawal" from Portland, USA TODAY reported.

USA TODAY has reached out to Think Liberty for comment.

More: Portland protesters, Wall of Moms sue Trump administration over use of tear gas, rubber bullets

Is there a law allowing federal agents to detain protesters without explanation?

The Trump administration defended deploying federal agents to Portland on the basis of 40 U.S. Code § 1315, Law enforcement authority of Secretary of Homeland Security for protection of public property, according to USA TODAY. To enforce laws and regulations protecting federal property and people on said property, law enforcement may:

  • Carry firearms

  • Make arrests without warrant for offenses made in front of an officer

  • Serve warrants and subpoenas issued under authority

  • Conduct investigations on and off the property in question, and

  • Carryout orders from Homeland Security

According to the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute, the code is a section of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, enacted during George W. Bush's presidency.

The claim appears to confuse the 2002 homeland security law with the National Defense Authorization Act, known as the NDAA, for fiscal year 2012.

The NDAA is mentioned in this post of the identical meme to the Facebook page of Mohammed M. Shaker.

"I swear I must have made a comment about the Obama NDAA in 2012 because that's when I was most on the Ron Paul train," Shaker wrote in his caption. Paul is a former Texas congressman who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and 2012, according to CNN.

Stephen Vladeck, professor at the University of Texas School of Law, told The Associated Press that the social media posts are falsely referencing the 2012 NDAA, signed by Obama.

“It’s simply preposterous. That statute includes a controversial set of provisions concerning military detention, but it has absolutely nothing to do with what’s happening in Portland,” Vladeck said.

Section 1021 of the 2012 NDAA authorizes the president to use military force to detain actors in the 9/11 terror attacks or supporters of al-Qaida, the Taliban and other forces hostile against the U.S. and coalition partners pending a final court decision, according to the official website for the U.S. Congress. The act does not apply to protesters.

Fact check: Federal agents in Portland are not mercenaries provided by Erik Prince

Our rating: False

We rate this claim FALSE because it is not supported by our research. A law authorizing federal agents to detain people endangering federal property was enacted during the presidency of George W. Bush, not during the Obama administration. Posts on social media apparently confused a 2002 homeland security law with the NDAA for fiscal year 2012, which was enacted during Obama's presidency.

Our fact-check sources:

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Barack Obama didn't sign law allowing protester detentions