Badge-less police officers are showing up at protests. It’s dangerous.

The presence of un-badged officers was not limited to Washington; videos in multiple cities surfaced of officers refusing to identify themselves and taping over their badges even as they confronted protesters with batons and pepper spray. A video over the weekend from San Diego showed men in military gear charging from unmarked vehicles at a group of Black Lives Matter protesters, wrestling a woman into their vehicle and driving off. “Who are you?” shout the group of protesters on the street. “Follow us and you will get shot,” replies a helmeted man carrying a rifle. The officers would turn out to be members of the San Diego Police Department.

Nor is it reassuring that the badgeless forces have appeared in the immediate aftermath of weeks of protests by heavily armed white militias against state stay-at-home orders in the era of covid-19. Two decades of rising police department militarization and white-nationalist militia cosplay seem to be converging in a way that has made it difficult for protesters to know whether those who are supposedly responsible for public safety are still accountable to the public.

It is not a big jump from governments sending in un-badged police to governments letting self-appointed vigilantes take over policing.