Multiple ATF sources back up the existence of a complaint alleging President Biden’s nominee to lead ATF, David Chipman, made racist comments during his previous stint at the agency.
The agents, who have decades of experience at the agency, told The Reload they heard the accusation that Chipman denigrated black ATF agents up for promotion. The officials said they heard about Chipman’s alleged comments before they were referenced in a recent lawsuit seeking the release of the complaint.
“He made some comments that he was surprised by the number of African Americans who have made it onto a specific promotional list,” a current ATF official told The Reload. “So, his insinuation was that they had to have cheated. Which is kind of despicable.”
A former ATF agent who worked directly with Chipman said he heard the same story.
“That one had to do with what’s called the assessment center, which would be to get promoted,’ the former agent told The Reload. “Somebody would have had to file a complaint against him if he were a supervisor making those statements.”
The current ATF official said the allegation ended his time in Detroit.
“He left Detroit because of that,” he said. “He did not leave Detroit on the best of terms. His reputation was that he was not nice to people.”
The details of the story told by the agents closely match those outlined in a Daily Caller News Foundation interview with Tom Jones, the American Accountability Foundation (AAF) president, on one of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaints being sought by his group. That Freedom of Information Act lawsuit alleges there were two EEOC complaints filed against Chipman. One of those complaints relates to comments Chipman made implying black agents could not have performed as well as they did on a promotions assessment.
Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) asked Chipman about the complaints in written questions for the nominee. Chipman admitted the complaints existed but did not reveal their contents and said, “both complaints were resolved without any finding of discrimination, and no disciplinary action was taken against me,” according to Fox News. The details of the racist comments Chipman is accused of making had not been corroborated before now. The Reload has not been able to verify the veracity of the allegation Chipman made racist remarks, only that the allegation exists and was known to some agents before the filing of the AAF lawsuit.
Jones said the Senate should force the complaints to be made public.
“The Senate must refuse to move on Chipman’s nomination until these hidden files are made public,” he said in a statement. “The Senate cannot ignore possible charges of racism.”
April Langwell, chief of the ATF’s Public Affairs Division, told The Reload the agency “cannot comment on nominees” and referred questions on the complaint and lawsuit to the White House and Department of Justice. The White House and DOJ did not respond to a request for comment.
A third longtime agent, Rick Vasquez, said he hadn’t heard the specific allegation but confirmed Chipman was reassigned to the Detroit office after nobody else would take the job. He described it as a troubled office with a history of washing out supervisors.
“He got sent to Detroit against his will,” he said. “I know that. Detroit has always been a mess.”
Concerns Over Effectiveness
Vasquez also worked with Chipman during his time at the agency. Like the other former agent, he said his personal interactions with Chipman had been positive. He said decisions made by President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland are more important to the overall direction the ATF takes than who the director is. Still, he said the agency needs leadership after a string of short-term acting directors—though he doesn’t believe Chipman will be confirmed due to “absolutely stupid, asinine” comments about AR-15s and his inability to define what an “assault weapon” is during his confirmation hearing, despite wanting to ban the guns.
“I watched his confirmation hearing, and I just said, ‘What in the hell?’ I thought he would have prepared himself for some of these questions,” he said. “But ATF is in a mess. They need a supervisor in there. The relationship with ATF in the industry is probably the lowest it has ever been.”
They said Chipman’s reputation for being an anti-gun activist, earned after years of working for some of the most prominent gun-control groups in the country, would impact how closely licensed gun dealers are willing to work with the agency. And that could hinder its ability to put away gun traffickers.
“A large number of ATF cases come from legitimate gun dealers, who see what they believe to be criminal activity,” the current agent said. “They see what they believe to be a straw purchase, or we’ve had countless cases referred to us where there’ll be a gun show, they’re selling in accordance with their license, they’re following the rules, and they’ll see someone selling where it’s clearly someone who’s abusing the law. I can’t even tell you how many countless cases we’ve gotten that way. So, to have someone come in who potentially could jeopardize that relationship is really concerning to most of the folks who are actually working cases. Those relationships help us put bad people in jail, which in turn, helps us keep the public safe.”
The former agent noted that ATF needs a good relationship with licensed dealers because the agency isn’t getting real-time information about gun sales.
“There’s no system that alerts ATF,” he said. “The person who has to alert us is that licensed dealer. If they don’t pick up the phone and call us, we’ll never know.”
The agents said an ATF director doesn’t have to be a cheerleader for the industry or treat gun dealers with a light touch to be successful, but purposely creating an adversarial relationship would make building connections with the dealers who tip them off to potential criminals much harder.
“We have to have that relationship,” the former agent said. “And how could you have a director who’s clearly anti-gun? You don’t have to be pro-gun, but you can’t have an anti-gun activist going after quote ‘bad dealers’ and who’s targeting the industry. That is going to have a chilling effect.”
“It’s a delicate balance, and he’s gonna come in and upset that balance,” the current agent said. “Well, it affects us greatly. It affects our abilities to go out there and do our job. And all to score political points?”
The former and current ATF officials who asked to have their identities withheld said they also worried about reprisals if Chipman is confirmed.
“The concern with him is he’s got a reputation for being a bully,” the current official said. “And he also has a pretty well-founded reputation for being an activist when it comes to gun control.”
The agents worry Chipman will surround himself with other gun-control supporters instead of building a team with diverse viewpoints. They expressed concern he might even punish agents he doesn’t believe are on board with his vision by reassigning them to far-flung posts.
“If you’re not going to march to the beat of his drum, there is a concern that you’ll wind up somewhere,” the current agent said. “It’s not like when you work for a local police department where you find yourself in a new precinct on the other side of town. Here, you can find yourself in another part of the country or, even worse, on an island in one of our territories. That means uprooting your family, taking your kids out of school, and things like that.”
Concerns Over His Credibility Inside the Agency
Chipman is also outside of the norm for an ATF agent, they said. ATF employees, especially field agents, tend to be gun enthusiasts themselves, and most view their job as stopping violent crime rather than instituting restrictive gun-control measures.
“The reality is we have a bad reputation,’ the current agent said. “And part of it is because it helps to drum up membership in certain organizations that think the boogie man is coming to get you guys. I get it. We all get it. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years. Almost every agent I’ve ever worked with is pretty apolitical. They take great pride in not being hyper-partisan. So, he’s the exact opposite of what most of us are. And he’s one of only two ATF agents I’ve ever met in my entire life who I perceived to be anti-gun. Most of them are actually quite fond of firearms; they’re just not fond of firearms in the hands of violent criminals. But he has shown a propensity to be anti-gun.”
All three agents also expressed surprise at Chipman’s turn from ATF agent to gun-control activist. The current agent described his views, which include new gun bans stricter than those supported by Senate gun-control champion Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) and removing gun-carry protections for retired police officers, as “extreme” and his demeanor “unsettling.” Those who worked with him said his views on guns appeared to change after he left the agency.
“Those positions didn’t materialize when he was at ATF,” Vasquez said. “I never saw that working for him. He supported me and supported the industry. And the industry loved it.”
“He was a decent guy, treated me decently,” the other former agent said. “What’s happened to him since? He’s gotten whacked. I have no idea where any of this is coming from.”
Two of the agents also said Chipman had never actually worked a field case while at the ATF. And, even those who worked with him have a hard time figuring him out.
“We have a few guys on my job that everybody hates,” the former agent said. “You have a few guys on my job that everybody loves. And you have guys who are in the middle. Chipman, you can’t get a read on anyway. I don’t know if he ever wrote a case. When I’m talking to my folks everyone’s scratching their head like he’s this Manchurian Candidate. No one can even nail down who knows him, who hung out with him, who he was buds with.
“That’s what scares the shit out of me. There’s so much more that we don’t know.”