For anyone not yet enraged by insignia-free federal agents sweeping the streets of Portland, it’s time to start paying attention.
Because let’s say, for argument’s sake, that Denver is next. Donald Trump is already apparently sending similar agents to Chicago, and, in his apparent bid to shake up his free-falling re-election chances, name-checked a bunch of other cities with Democratic mayors who could be on the list — Philly, Baltimore, Detroit, Oakland.
I don’t know if it’s impending fascism — I doubt Trump knows what fascism is; the last we heard from him he was talking about left-wing fascists — or just one more way to turn off suburban voters who are already abandoning him. But whatever it is, it’s a clear and present danger to American democracy.
“Look at what’s going on — all run by Democrats, all run by very liberal Democrats. All run, really, by radical left,” Trump said of cities he might target, adding, “If Biden got in, that would be true for the country. The whole country would go to hell. And we’re not going to let it go to hell.”
So, in case you hadn’t noticed, Denver is a city with a Democratic mayor and Colorado even has a Democratic governor. And we have protests. Maybe, even with Trump way down in polling here, we’re still too much of a swing state for Trump to send in what look like paramilitaries. But who knows?
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the use of the troops — and if they’re not actual troops, they persuasively resemble them — is supposedly to protect federal buildings and statues from, you know, graffiti or other harm. Oh, and also to gather “intelligence” on threats to buildings and statues. In Portland, the protests have been ongoing for nearly two months.
And yet, gathering intelligence apparently means grabbing people off the streets and putting them in unmarked vans. We’ve seen this before — just not in modern America. Sure, we’ve sent troops into cities before, say, to help threatened students desegregate schools back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. This would be different. According to a memo obtained by the New York Times, the agents are not prepared for this kind of action.
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Oregon Gov. Kate Brown — who, like the Portland mayor, has asked the feds to leave to no avail — says this is not an Oregon crisis but “an American crisis.” She told NPR: “The Trump administration needs to stop playing politics with people’s lives. We don’t have a secret police in this country. This is not a dictatorship. And Trump needs to get his officers off the streets.”
In Colorado, it’s the state Capitol that is being vandalized. It’s that good enough for the feds? Or what if the tagger guys — aren’t they Antifa? — go next for the federal courthouse?
It’s reasonable to worry that the DHS thugs might come our way because after watching what is going on in Portland, anything is possible.
People in Colorado would be sufficiently outraged by such an invasion by the feds — some are calling the Portland situation an occupation — that I’m betting Cory Gardner would use very strong language to say he is studying the matter.
Look, this is beyond the typical Trump outrage. We can recall when similar forces were used to clear Lafayette Park for Trump’s Bible-wielding photo-op at a nearby church. That was before, I believe, he sent in the choppers to buzz protesters. The action was roundly condemned by nearly everyone — including a bunch of generals — who isn’t a Republican office holder.
This is even beyond sending the troops to the border in the run-up to the 2018 midterms to presumably protect the country from invading caravans that never invaded and never posed a danger.
What’s happening in Portland is far worse and far more dangerous. The F-word — yeah, fascism — is being tossed around a lot. Some are saying storm troopers. Authoritarianism. For Trump, it’s LAW AND ORDER, in capital letters, in which he blatantly misuses the law.
The issue here — noted in that pesky First Amendment — is the right to peacefully protest. In the Lawfare blog, legal scholars Steve Vladeck and Benjamin Wittes say the Trump administration is “using the cover of minor property damage” to gather intelligence against “ordinary Americans” who would gather to protest.
Oregon is trying to fight back. The attorney general is suing the Department of Homeland Security, which is headed by the usual Trump “acting” secretary, Chad Wolf, who was a former lobbyist with no experience in these matters. Sound familiar?
Here’s what Wolf said in an interview with Fox News: “I don’t need invitations by the state, state mayors or state governors to do our job. We’re going to do that, whether they like us there or not.”
They don’t like them there, and according to the governor and mayor, the feds have made a difficult situation, but one that was beginning to calm, that much worse. Meanwhile Ken Cuccinelli — whose official title, according to New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie, is “Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security” — has said in various interviews that DHS is ready to take these tactics nationwide.
We’ve seen the tactics. A former Navy officer was beaten by baton-wielding shock troops, as seen in a video that has gone viral. A protester who picked up a smoke grenade and rolled it back, was shot in the head (with, you know, a less than lethal projectile) and needs reconstructive surgery. Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara asks why we don’t know how many people have been taken into custody, how many charged and with what they’ve been charged.
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In Portland, it’s gotten to the point where a Wall of Moms — a group of moms in bike helmets and yellow shirts standing between the feds and the protesters, joined Monday by orange-clad Dads — were chanting on Monday night, “Hands up, please don’t shoot me!” But again after a mostly peaceful protest, late-night events spiraled out of control, and there were fires and there was damage and there was tear gas.
Clearly, the agents in their camo and masks and military gear simply bring more protesters to confront them. Which is, I guess, exactly what Trump wants to happen, in a pre-election bid to reprise his infamous American carnage” inauguration speech. Tin soldiers and Trump is coming. We’re finally on our own …
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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