The indictment of a D.C. police lieutenant on Thursday is, at a minimum, disconcerting. Beyond the indictment itself, the case reflects a serious challenge for American law enforcement.
What’s alleged — and will, at some point presumably, need to be proved in court — is that Shane Lamond, who led the Metropolitan Police Department’s intelligence branch, was in regular communication with Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, including in the period during and after the 2020 presidential election. According to messages presented in the indictment, the relationship was not confined to intelligence gathering on Lamond’s part and, instead, included his actively assisting the Proud Boys leader.
By now, you’ve probably heard of the Proud Boys. It’s a fringe-right group that espouses the primacy of “Western civilization” — an unsubtle coding for White culture — and that embraces violence. During 2020, its efforts became “strongly correlated with the fortunes of former President Trump,” according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. That included protests in D.C. in November and December that were followed by street brawls involving Proud Boys members.
“I can’t say it officially, but personally I support you all and don’t want to see your group’s name or reputation dragged through the mud,” Lamond allegedly wrote to Tarrio at one point in a private message on Telegram. That message was sent on Jan. 8, 2021, two days after the riot at the Capitol that injured scores of police officers, including some from the D.C. department, and after it was obvious that the Proud Boys played a role in the day’s violence.
This could be framed as Lamond trying to work his source, and perhaps it will be at trial. The Washington Post couldn’t immediately reach Lamond’s attorney on Friday, but the lawyer has said in the past that his client’s contacts with Tarrio were part of his work to gather intelligence and prevent clashes.
There are, however, indications that the police officer was actually reflecting his sincere belief.
On Nov. 7, 2020, the day the election was called for Joe Biden, Lamond allegedly contacted Tarrio.
“Hey brother,” he wrote, according to the indictment, “sad, sad news today. You all planning anything?”
Tarrio allegedly replied, “Yep.”
An hour later, prosecutors allege that Lamond sent Tarrio a warning.
“Need to switch to encrypted,” Lamond allegedly wrote. “Alerts are being sent out to [law enforcement] that [social media] accounts belonging to your people are talking about mobilizing and ‘taking back the country.’”
If this is accurate, Lamond isn’t gathering intelligence. Quite the opposite: He’s telling Tarrio that the Proud Boys should use encrypted tools to shield their communications — their planning — from law enforcement eyes. He and Tarrio allegedly used the encrypted messaging tool on Telegram to chat. The indictment claims that at least 100 messages between Tarrio and Lamond that only they would have seen were destroyed. Those messages were sent between Dec. 18, 2020 — after Tarrio and the Proud Boys engaged in street brawls in D.C. after a pro-Trump rally — and Jan. 4, 2021.
On that day, Tarrio was arrested for burning a Black Lives Matter (BLM) banner seized from a D.C. church. The Lamond indictment alleges that the police officer attempted to obstruct justice by feeding information about the arrest to Tarrio.
This is one officer allegedly engaged in sympathetic behavior with a violent right-wing group. But it falls into a national conversation in which the political allegiances and behavior of law enforcement officers are under increased scrutiny and undergirding a partisan divide on views of police.
By April 2021, ABC News had documented more than 50 arrests of Capitol riot participants who were active or retired members of the military, government or law enforcement. This week, NBC News reported, the FBI stripped the security clearance of an FBI agent who was present at the Capitol that day and was found to have “expressed support for the protestors’ unauthorized entry into the Capitol building and support for their criminal acts against the U.S.”
The riot followed months of Trump leveraging and exacerbating tensions between police and BLM protesters who took to the streets in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Trump tried repeatedly to position police officers as his political allies, both subtly and unsubtly. At times, the support he offered police was reciprocated.
Partisan tensions over the police aren’t new, but they spiked after the emergence of BLM nearly a decade ago. The movement’s effort to draw attention to systemic problems within law enforcement, embraced by the political left, triggered a strongly pro-police response on the right.
In 2012, about a quarter of Democrats said they had a “great deal” of confidence in the police, according to Gallup, compared with more than a third of Republicans. That 11-point gap became a 38-point gap by 2021, with only 1 in 10 Democrats having a great deal of confidence and half of Republicans holding that position.
Republicans were 2½ times as likely as Democrats to say they viewed the police with a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in 2021.
This is not like the decrease in confidence that Gallup has recorded for other institutions. It is more important that Americans have confidence in the objectivity of the police than, say, large technology companies. Police departments ideally derive their authority from public trust and accountability to elected officials. In Gallup’s polling during the 2000s, an average of 59 percent of Americans had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the police. So far this decade, the average is 48 percent.
Race sits at the root of this shift. BLM identified systemic problems to draw attention to the fact that Black Americans are disproportionately likely to be killed by police. “Black Lives Matter” was countered with “Blue Lives Matter,” explicitly positioning “blue” — police — against Black. That Democrats are much more skeptical of police is certainly in some part because Black Americans are so disproportionately members of that party.
One of the tips that Lamond allegedly gave Tarrio revealed his thoughts on this point, too. Tarrio was apparently concerned that burning the BLM banner would result in hate-crime charges. Lamond told the Proud Boys leader that he had argued against that.
“They wanted to know what I know about your group and if I think you all are racist,” Lamond allegedly wrote to Tarrio in an encrypted chat on Dec. 18, 2020. “I told them you are made up of a lot of Latinos and [B]lacks so not a racist thing.” (This is not itself necessarily a fair conclusion.)
“If anything I said it’s political but then I drew attention to the Trump and American flags that were taken by antifa,” the message reportedly continued. “I said all those would have to be classified as hate crimes too.”
That Lamond wrote these messages is an unproven allegation from federal law enforcement. They may at some point be credibly explained as part of an effort by Lamond to ingratiate himself with Tarrio. Or they may reinforce a concern that critics on the left have of police: that even senior police officials may have so poor an understanding of discrimination and racism that they think burning a BLM banner and burning an American flag constitute the same sort of “hate.”
Not to mention that a senior official would express sympathy with and approval for right-wing extremists who repeatedly engaged in political violence in the city he was sworn to protect.