I’m so happy the Lincoln Project people are working on our side this time.
For decades, conservative activists and leaders have warned that “jackbooted thugs” from the federal government were going to come to take away Americans’ civil rights with no due process and no recourse. Now they’re here—but they’re deployed by a staunchly right-wing president with strong conservative support.
In Portland, Oregon, federal agents in military fatigues have for several days been patrolling the streets amid ongoing protests about police brutality. These forces, employed by the Department of Homeland Security, have snatched people off the streets of the city, refused to identify themselves, and detained people without charges. Ostensibly, they are present to protect federal buildings from protesters. In practice, they seem to be acting on a much wider mandate, either to suppress protests or (more cynically) to provoke confrontation on behalf of a flailing White House that sees it as electorally beneficial.
If you go to right-wing sites right now, you still see people proposing that the Black Lives Matter protests are the spearheads of a either socialist or fascist takeover (political terms confuse the poor dears), or both. That fascism is being acted out by the Trump administration in broad daylight doesn’t bother them; they don’t even recognize that’s what it is. And I’m sure this doesn’t surprise you.
At the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg goes there: Trump’s Occupation of American Cities Has Begun — Protesters are being snatched from the streets without warrants. Can we call it fascism yet?
The month after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Yale historian Timothy Snyder published the best-selling book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century.” It was part of a small flood of titles meant to help Americans find their bearings as the new president laid siege to liberal democracy.
One of Snyder’s lessons was, “Be wary of paramilitaries.” He wrote, “When the pro-leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the end has come.” In 2017, the idea of unidentified agents in camouflage snatching leftists off the streets without warrants might have seemed like a febrile Resistance fantasy. Now it’s happening. …
… There’s something particularly terrifying in the use of Border Patrol agents against American dissidents. After the attack on protesters near the White House last month, the military pushed back on Trump’s attempts to turn it against the citizenry. Police officers in many cities are willing to brutalize demonstrators, but they’re under local control. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, however, is under federal authority, has leadership that’s fanatically devoted to Trump and is saturated with far-right politics.
“It doesn’t surprise me that Donald Trump picked C.B.P. to be the ones to go over to Portland and do this,” Representative Joaquin Castro, Democrat of Texas, told me. “It has been a very problematic agency in terms of respecting human rights and in terms of respecting the law.”
It is true that C.B.P. is not an extragovernmental militia, and so might not fit precisely into Snyder’s “On Tyranny” schema. But when I spoke to Snyder on Monday, he suggested the distinction isn’t that significant. “The state is allowed to use force, but the state is allowed to use force according to rules,” he said. These agents, operating outside their normal roles, are by all appearances behaving lawlessly.
Snyder pointed out that the history of autocracy offers several examples of border agents being used against regime enemies.
“This is a classic way that violence happens in authoritarian regimes, whether it’s Franco’s Spain or whether it’s the Russian Empire,” said Snyder. “The people who are getting used to committing violence on the border are then brought in to commit violence against people in the interior.”
And Trump is claiming that the protesters are “not merely protesters.”
We are trying to help Portland, not hurt it. Their leadership has, for months, lost control of the anarchists and agitators. They are missing in action. We must protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE. These were not merely protesters, these are the real deal!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 19, 2020
The real deal, what? Ooo, something scary, I bet.
I’ve said before that the deployment of
jackbooted thugs federal law enforcement agents to U.S. cities is just an extension of the Bible Stunt. It’s Trump showing off how tough he is. That, combined with his incessant claims that Joe Biden is a doddering, senile dupe of the extreme left who would eliminate police departments and let anarchy reign, is now pretty much Trump’s entire re-election campaign.
In the course of announcing that “more” federal law enforcement will be descending on cities like Chicago, while hailing enforcement efforts to “grab” people in Portland, Trump quickly segued into a claim about the presidential race.
If Joe Biden gets elected, Trump said, “the whole country would go to hell. And we’re not going to let it go to hell.”
Trump just said it straight from the Oval Office: This is all about Biden.
At around that time, Trump’s eldest son tweeted out a new Trump campaign ad that depicts a terrified elderly woman calling 911 about an intruder, while falsely claiming Biden would defund the police. The political messaging is seamlessly connected to President Trump’s claims about Biden in the White House while announcing the new law enforcement actions.
At WaPo, Katie Shepherd provides a history of recent street activism in Portland. In recent years there have been several instances of right-wing militants showing up from out of town, to be confronted by the local lefties. For example:
About six months later, the city was mourning the killing of two men on a light-rail train in a hate crime when a far-right group known to attract neo-Nazis and white supremacists held an “anti-antifa” rally days after the slaying. When more than 2,000 Portlanders marched against the right-wing extremists, police detained almost 400 people and took photos of their IDs.
That incident set off nearly two years of costly protests that frustrated police and the public. Far-right groups not from Portland repeatedly held rallies and marches throughout the city during the summer of 2017, congregating in June, August and September. Local counterdemonstrators showed up in droves.
You might remember Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, one of the two people killed. I wrote about the 2017 killings here. Katie Shepherd writes that part of the pattern is that the local police clearly show favoritism to the right-wing mobs and are much more aggressive toward leftie demonstrators, even when they are being entirely peaceful.
“For years, we’ve had these fascists coming to Portland. They’re always met with a large crowd of antifascists, and the police always brutalize the antifascists and protect the fascists,” Olivia Katbi Smith, co-chair of the Portland Democratic Socialists of America, told The Post. “It’s made Portland a really great scapegoat for the Trump administration.”
Yes. But you could now say the same thing about nearly any city that has seen large Black Lives Matter protests. The Right wants Trump to put them down. And he will, if he’s allowed. From yesterday:
Trump cited heightened violence in Chicago and New York City, in particular, both of which have seen a rise in shootings in recent weeks. In the latter’s case, he blamed city and state officials for restricting police from taking a stronger response.
“I’m going to do something — that, I can tell you,” Trump said. “Because we’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these — Oakland is a mess. We’re not going to let this happen in our country. All run by liberal Democrats.“
The recent spike in shootings in NYC appear to be unrelated to protests. But see Shootings Have Soared. Is the NYPD Pulling Back?
And then, as David Atkins warned, this may be leading up to a declaration of martial law that would allow
Trump’s goons federal law enforcement agents to interfere with elections. By now Trump must at least suspect he could be cruising to a crushing defeat. He can’t let that happen. In his mind, he can’t lose. Only other people lose.
Apparently cobbled together using personnel from Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard, these “rapid deployment teams” are formally tasked with securing federal buildings from graffiti and vandalism in tandem with the Federal Protective Service, which is ordinarily responsible for the job. But they’re being used to suppress protests in what appears to be an election year gambit by the Trump administration to create images of disorder and chaos on which the president can then campaign. “This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety,” Kate Brown, the Democratic governor of Oregon, said last week. “Trump is looking for a confrontation in Oregon in the hopes of winning political points in Ohio or Iowa.”
The official tasked with coordinating all this action, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, is an enthusiastic participant, casting protesters as “violent anarchists and extremists” in order to justify what’s been done to them. “The city of Portland has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city,” Wolf said. “This siege can end if state and local officials decide to take appropriate action instead of refusing to enforce the law.”
On Sunday, Wolf’s deputy, Ken Cuccinelli (whose official title is “Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security”), told NPR that Homeland Security would be taking these tactics nationwide. Wolf affirmed this, telling Fox News that his agency can act with or without local cooperation. “I don’t need invitations by the state, state mayors or state governors to do our job,” he said. “We’re going to do that, whether they like us there or not.” President Trump likewise vowed to send federal law enforcement agents to several more cities, amid reports that a Portland-like force was headed to Chicago.
This is going to get people killed.
What can be done? Right now there is a DHS funding bill in the House. It was approved out of committee last week. Back to Michelle Goldberg:
On Friday, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, tweeted about what’s happening in Portland: “Trump and his storm troopers must be stopped.” She didn’t mention what Congress plans to do to stop them, but the House will soon vote on a homeland security appropriations bill. People outraged about the administration’s police-state tactics should demand, at a minimum, that Congress hold up the department’s funding until those tactics are halted.
Write to your Democratic representative to support this proposal. It may be the only leverage we have.
Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes, The Atlantic, Nothing Can Justify the Attack on Portland