Federal officials looked into getting a heat ray that makes targets’ skin feel like it’s burning and amassed thousands of rounds of ammunition in preparation for clearing a peaceful protest in Lafayette Square in June, according to written House testimony from an Army National Guard major who was at the scene.
Maj. Adam DeMarco described such preparations — including officials’ failure to acquire a loud announcement device for warning protesters to disperse — in an August letter responding to follow-up questions after he testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources in June about federal officers’ efforts earlier that month. DeMarco, who described himself as one of the senior National Guard officials on the scene, ran as a Democrat for Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District in 2018.
News of the contents of DeMarco’s letter was first reported by NPR.
In the letter, DeMarco wrote that the Defense Department’s head military police officer for the National Capitol Region emailed him and others on the day of the protests asking if the DC National Guard had “a Long Range Acoustic Device,” which can blast walls of sound at protesters, or “the Active Denial Systems,” which feature “a directed energy beam that provides sensation of intense heat on the surface of the skin.”
DeMarco wrote that he responded saying that the DC National Guard had neither device, and that to his knowledge, no such acoustic device was used at Lafayette Square. When he looked into getting the acoustic device the next day, the DC National Guard told him “that they were no longer seeking” it.
Therefore, the US Park Service’s “warnings to disperse” did not come from that system but from “a red and white megaphone” that DeMarco saw used, he wrote. He referenced in his in-person testimony that even 30 feet from the megaphone, the “warnings to disperse were barely audible and I was only able to discern several words” — while the front line of the protesters was even further away from the warning.
He also referenced a weapons transfer to the DC National Guard the afternoon of the protest that he later learned contained “approximately 7,000 rounds of ammunition.”
The Pentagon responded Thursday that the inquiry had been made as a matter of “due diligence and prudent military planning” and that no further action had been taken.
“On June 1st, a military police staff officer from the Joint Force Headquarters-National Capitol Region (JFHQ-NCR), as a matter of due diligence and prudent military planning, inquired informally about capabilities across the full-spectrum of non-lethal systems, to include the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) and Active Denial System (ADS),” said Col. Robert Phillips, a spokesman for the joint force. “JFHQ-NCR does not possess these systems, did not request such systems, and no further action was taken as a result of the officer’s E-Mail query.”
Federal agents faced criticism for using smoke canisters and rubber bullets to clear peaceful demonstrators who were in Lafayette Square protesting institutionalized racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. The move sparked an outcry from lawmakers and public figures, including former Defense Secretary James Mattis, with Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser slamming the incident as an attack against protesters.
Law enforcement dispersed the crowd just prior to President Donald Trump’s controversial photo op at a nearby church, where he held up a Bible after he had declared himself the “law and order” President. The incident has come to epitomize Trump’s stance against widespread national unrest, which he has promised to crack down on in a key tenet of his reelection campaign.
A Defense Department official briefed on the matter minimized DeMarco’s account, the Post reported, and asserted that emails inquiring about particular weapons were routine in assessing available inventory. The official also told the paper that federal police failed to acquire a heat ray device during the early days of demonstrations in the city.
DeMarco’s attorney David Laufman disputed that characterization on Wednesday, saying that there “there is nothing ‘routine’ about inquiring about the availability of a heat ray to use against American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Bowser addressed the news on Thursday, saying that it “highlights the problem … of having local policing done by an unaccountable federal chain of command. And that’s why I’ve been very consistent about local policing matters being handled by the Metropolitan Police Department.”
In his appearance before the committee in June, DeMarco testified that tear gas was in fact used — in contrast to the official account from federal officials.
“I could feel irritation in my eyes and nose, and based on my previous exposure to tear gas in my training at West Point and later in my Army training, I recognized that irritation as effects consistent with CS or ‘tear gas,’ ” DeMarco told the panel. “And later that evening, I found spent tear gas canisters on the street nearby.”
Conversely, US Park Police acting Chief Gregory Monahan testified at the time that tear gas was not used, but his testimony suggested that he defines tear gas as a particular type of gas called CS gas.
This story has been updated with responses from Mayor Muriel Bowser and from the Pentagon.