Fact check: Obama did not sign bill allowing federal agents to “snatch protesters off the streets”

Shared over 1,400 times on Facebook, a false post alleges former president Barack Obama signed a law that allows federal agents to “snatch protesters off the streets in Portland”.

A protester throws a canister of teargas back toward federal law enforcement officers during a demonstration against police violence and racial inequality in Portland, Oregon, U.S., July 24, 2020. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

The claim follows weeks of protests in Portland, Oregon over the death of George Floyd and amid local anger at the deployment of federal agents in response to the unrest. Mayor Ted Wheeler has called the intervention an abuse of federal power and blamed it for escalating violence in the city. ( here ). President Donald Trump has accused local leaders of losing control of “anarchists and agitators” and said the deployment was necessary to protect federal property ( here ).

The posts, which feature a photograph of Obama, read: “When everyone just blames Trump but forgets who actually signed the law authorizing federal agents to snatch protestors off the streets in Portland.” Examples are visible here and here .

The false claim most likely stems from a misleading connection to the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA ( here ). The bill raised concerns over the authorization of indefinite detention of suspected terrorists without trial ( here ) and was opposed by civil liberties groups and human rights advocates ( here , here ).

At the time, Obama said he signed the bill “despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists”. In his statement Obama also mentioned that his administration would not “authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens.” ( here )

Professor Stephen Vladeck from the University of Texas School of Law told Reuters via email that while the full authority of this law is controversial, “it doesn’t come within a lightyear of what’s happening in Portland, Chicago and other American cities,” adding the claims are misleading, offensive and inflammatory.

According to the White House, the Department of Homeland Security has the legal authority to deploy federal agents to Portland based on 40 U.S. Code § 1315 (statement visible , Code visible here ), a law that was enacted as part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and signed by then-President George W. Bush ( here ).

Some users on social media directly connect recent events in Portland to Obama’s signing of the NDAA ( here , here , here , here ). These claims falsely say that Section 1021 allows the president “to detain anyone he wants, for any reason he wants, without a trial, without a lawyer, without ever seeing any family member again, to be held anywhere in the world, indefinitely.”

Professor Vladeck pointed out that Section 1021 sets specific criteria according to which individuals can be detained by the military - namely, if they are linked to al Qaeda or related groups.

The section ( here ) allows the President “to use all necessary and appropriate force” including the authority for U.S. Armed Forces to detain individuals who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the 9/11 attacks in 2001, or were “part of or substantially supported al Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners”.

These provisions are not applicable to protesters in Portland.


False. Obama did not sign a law allowing federal agents to “snatch protesters off the streets”.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work  here  .