Federal officials sought 'heat ray' device before clearing D.C. protesters

WASHINGTON — For the evening in early June when law enforcement forcibly dispersed a crowd of protesters from Lafayette Square, federal and military officials tried to obtain a sound cannon or devices that are known as heat rays, a whistleblower says.

In response to questions from the House Natural Resources Committee, Maj. Adam DeMarco, a reservist in the District of Columbia National Guard, said that on the morning of June 1, he was copied on an email from the Defense Department's lead military officer for the National Capital Region. The provost marshal, DeMarco said, asked if the D.C. National Guard had a "long range acoustic device," which is a sound cannon, or "active denial systems," which are heat rays.

According to DeMarco, the email said that the heat ray devices provide troops with "the ability to reach out and engage potential adversaries at distances well beyond small arms range, and in a safe, effective, and non-lethal manner."

"The ADS can immediately compel an individual to cease threatening behavior or depart through application of a directed energy beam that provides a sensation of intense heat on the surface of the skin. The effect is overwhelming, causing an immediate repel response by the target individual," the email said.

DeMarco said he responded to the email saying that the D.C. National Guard didn't have a sound cannon device or heat rays. That evening, he said that there was still a pending request for a sound cannon, but he said, "To my knowledge, there was no LRAD on site at or near Lafayette Square on June 1."

DeMarco said that officials used a red-and-white megaphone to issue a warning to the crowd to disperse. While he said that he didn't see any rubber bullets used, he said he did see stingball grenades attached to law enforcement officers' ballistic vests. Those grenades, he said, release rubber pellets and deliver "blunt trauma effects." Several days later, a fellow national guardsman said he saw rubber bullets used that evening.

The military developed the heat ray device nearly two decades ago and publicly unveiled around 2007, according to the Associated Press, which reports it’s not clear that it’s ever actually been used in combat, although there are reports that it has been deployed.