Instagram post errs on use of lethal force, border agents and taxman

A social media user has combined anxiety over US southern border crossings and the future hiring of new IRS officers to create a misleading and incorrect post.

“America now has a government that prohibits border agents from using deadly force…but trains IRS agents to use SWAT team tactics on law-abiding citizens,” reads the statement. Instagram post, shared on August 21.

The message is among many misleading claims about the IRS that have surfaced since President Joe Biden signed into law the Cut Inflation Act on August 16, providing the agency with $80 billion in funding on 10 years. Many have falsely claimed that the IRS is hiring 87,000 new armed IRS agents who will target middle class taxpayers.

The Instagram post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat fake news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Learn more about our partnership with Meta, owner of Facebook and Instagram.)

The post misstates the ability of Border Patrol agents to use deadly force, and it misleads the role of IRS agents and how they interact with taxpayers.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection Use of Force Policy dated January 2021 specifies that deadly force may be used by Border Patrol agents if those agents recognize a sufficient threat.

The agency “is charged with the critical responsibility of protecting our nation’s borders,” it read. “This warrant carries the power to use force up to and including the use of deadly force.”

Such force is considered “necessary” when there is a “reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury” to the officer or another person, the policy says.

CBP spokeswoman Yolanda Choates confirmed to PolitiFact that officers can use lethal force to enforce the law.

A Border Patrol tactical unit shot and killed the gunman in the May 24 shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 students and two teachers were killed. Additionally, CBP press releases show that there have been at least three other fatal use-of-force incidents involving Border Patrol agents in 2022.

Within the IRS, the officers that typical taxpayers would encounter during a routine audit do not carry arms. The agency does, however, have a criminal investigations division.

There were 2,046 officers in this division in 2021, a small fraction of the IRS’ workforce of about 80,000. These agents carry weapons and investigate crimes such as money laundering, fraud, and narcotics-related financial affairs. They are authorized to use deadly force if necessary, according to a job description and an IRS webpage.

Officers undergo extensive firearms training, which includes drills using tactical gear and breaching gear, according to an IRS description of the officer training program.

But IRS policy is to assess the risks before any raid involving special agents. If entry is deemed “high risk,” officers will not enter, according to the IRS.

In those cases, “specially trained entry teams from other local, state or federal agencies will be considered,” and special agents may perform their search once the scene is secured, the agency said.

Our decision

An Instagram post claimed that “America now has a government that prohibits border agents from using deadly force…but trains IRS agents to use SWAT team tactics on law-abiding citizens. “

Border Patrol agents are authorized to use deadly force if they believe they or another person is at risk of death or injury.

A small group of IRS agents – special agents from the Criminal Investigations Division – can also use deadly force. But such force is not randomly employed on typical taxpayers, as the post claimed. Americans facing routine audits do not meet with these officers.

IRS special agents train with tactical gear and breaching gear. However, IRS policy is to assess the risks before entering a home or business as part of a criminal investigation, and if the situation is deemed high risk, a specially trained team will secure the location instead.

We rate this claim as false.

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