Mark Sumner / Daily Kos Staff
PORTLAND (July 17, 2020) — As the protests over the police murder of George Floyd spread across the nation, and especially as those protests began to bear fruit in terms of real change in attitudes toward policing, symbols of racism, and support for Black Lives Matter, Donald Trump saw an opportunity. That opportunity wasn’t to embrace this moment and move the nation forward. Trump never thinks that way. Instead, Trump went deep into Nixonian demands for “law and order.” Only what Trump means by that isn’t really law, it’s force. And it’s not really order, it’s fear.
What’s now happening in Portland, Oregon, is a deployment of that strategy. Unidentified men in camouflage uniforms on are on the ground in Portland over the express orders of both the governor and the mayor. And they are taking people off the streets for simply being protesters, no crime required.
They aren’t arresting people, because these aren’t really police. This is military rendition. Or even more accurately: extrajudicial kidnapping. It’s happening repeatedly in an American city, and it’s barely bringing notice. Pay attention to Portland: What’s going on is a trial run for what Trump is bringing to the rest of the nation.
This isn’t the first version of Trump’s nameless, badgeless, not-so-secret police. Trump did a test run in Washington DC, where Barr rolled out a “policing force” of various elements taken from the sub-basement of the Justice Department, including forces within the Bureau of Prisons meant to quell uprisings in federal facilities. There was absolutely no justification in deploying these people, and absolutely no chain of command. They reported to Barr and Trump, local officials be damned.
Now a similar force has been deployed in Portland. As The Washington Post reports, a flood of “men in green military fatigues” and driving unmarked vehicles, many of the apparently rental cars, have appeared in areas of Portland. This time, instead of the Bureau of Prisons, the source of the unbadged “police” appears to be the U.S. Marshals Service and Department of Homeland Security — in other words, bounty hunters and border patrol. None of them are trained either in dealing with protests or even ordinary law enforcement.
They have already shot one unarmed, peaceful protester, and as the Post account relates, are taking others off the street without charges, and holding them without access to an attorney. They’re behaving as if they are beyond all laws, because, thanks to the backing of Trump and Barr, they absolutely are. That includes laws in Oregon that don’t allow the use of tear gas against protesters — Trump’s un-secret police are using it anyway.
As Oregon Public Broadcasting reports, following a night of peaceful protest in which there were no clashes with police, “people in camouflage were driving around the area in unmarked minivans grabbing people off the street.” These federal forces have been driving around Portland in unmarked vehicles since at least Wednesday. They have repeatedly detained people without explanation, or providing information.
There’s a name for that action. It’s called kidnapping, and it’s a federal crime. Except that these are sanctioned federal criminals.
In an interview with Fox News, acting DHS Security Secretary Chad Wolf made it clear that the federal government was acting not just without the knowledge of state and local officials, but over their express opposition. “Earlier this week, I called not only the mayor but the governor,” said Wolf. “I offered DHS support to help them locally address the situation that’s going on in Portland. And their only response was, ‘Please pack up and go home.’”
Wolf made it clear that DHS wasn’t leaving. And his conversation with Fox’s Sean Hannity made it absolutely clear that this is not a law enforcement action — it’s a campaign strategy. As with the earlier situation in Seattle, Fox and right-wing media are exaggerating the situation in Portland to a degree that makes it unrecognizable to anyone on the ground.
On Fox, Portland is “a city under siege” by a collection of rampaging radical forces including, of course, antifa. It’s a city that has “descended into chaos,” and can only be saved by Trump sending in federal forces to bash heads and … that’s just. Just bash. The presence of Trump’s forces in Portland has increased tension and violence. By design.
What’s happening in Portland is so over the line of what should be acceptable federal action, that the line can’t even be seen from there. It’s no coincidence that on the same day these forces started dragging people into unmarked vans, Trump spoke about his plans to expand this scheme. In words that directly supported those of Wolf, Trump made it clear that just because people elected a mayor or a governor, doesn’t mean he has to respect their choice.
“The left-wing group of people running our cities are not doing the job they’re supposed to be doing,” said Trump. He then said that this “group of people” should be asking for his help, but since they refuse, he’s going to send people anyway, because “we can’t have happen what’s happening.” In an interview Wednesday evening, Trump made it clear he intends on “sending people in to clean it up” in other cities. And repeatedly stated that people would see what he meant “next week.”
In another interview on Fox News, Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan declared that all the protesters were criminals, along with his eagerness for what is coming. “I don’t want to get ahead of the president and his announcement,” said Morgan, “but the Department of Justice is going to be involved in this, DHS is going to be involved in this; and we’re really going to take a stand across the board. And we’re going to do what needs to be done to protect the men and women of this country.”
While most of America is fixed on dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, Fox and other sources on the right are offering their audience a whole different sort of threat. They’re presenting cities across the country — unsurprisingly, cities with lots of Black and brown residents — as dangerous centers of “anarchy” that simply must be put down. What Donald Trump is offering this audience is a new entertainment: He will put a federal boot on the throat of these cities, and he will press. No matter what any governor, or mayor, or representative has to say.
This is the pushback he’s offering against signs that white privilege may be slipping. Trump isn’t just surrounding himself with Confederate statues and other symbols of racism. Trump is so determined to have his second Civil War, that he’s willing to fire the first shot — and in Portland, it’s already been fired.
(July 17, 2020) — Donald Trump’s beta run for flooding a city with armed unmarked, unidentified forces took place in Washington, DC, right alongside his botched Bible photo op that sent his approval ratings plummeting. Now Trump is executing the next phase of his totalitarian fantasy in Portland, Oregon, a western city that was bound to attract far less press coverage than power plays in the nation’s central media corridor between New York and Washington, DC
This time around, Trump and his Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf have not only deployed unmarked forces, they’re also snatching people off the streets without cause and effectively interrogating them. Take Mark Pettibone, a 29-year-old, who was kidnapped by these secret Gestapo-like forces while he was walking home from a peaceful protest in the wee hours Wednesday morning.
Though he had done nothing wrong, men in green military fatigues jumped out of an unmarked van, descended on him, apprehended him, drove him to a federal courthouse, then eventually read him his Miranda rights and asked if he would waive those rights to answer some questions. When he said he wouldn’t, they let him go. No explanation. No identification. Pettibone doesn’t even know if he was officially arrested because it was all such a shady mess of a deal.
(July 17, 2020) — I’m from Argentina, in the 70’s and early 80’s, we had a brutal military dictatorship that used tactics like this, kidnapping people off the streets and putting them in unmarked vehicles, to torture and kill political opponents. This is dangerous.
UPDATE: ACLU is filing a restraining order against various law enforcement dispersal, arrest, seizure tactics that will now name DHS & DOJ for their role in Portland, Ore., the last few days.
If you’re wondering what these extrajudicial kidnappings look like, some have been caught on video.
According to local journalist Garrison Davis and the NPR affiliate Oregon Public Broadcasting, that video is very typical of what’s been playing out for about a week now. Several men jump out of an unmarked van, often intent on a single target, and if possible, take them into custody while never identifying themselves or giving any explanations whatsoever.
Local officials and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown have condemned the actions of these unmarked troops, saying Department of Homeland Security Sec. Wolf is intentionally on a “mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes.”
“This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety,” Brown said in a statement. “The President is failing to lead this nation. Now he is deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland in a blatant abuse of power by the federal government.”
Wolf also released a statement Thursday clearly intended to defend the lawlessness of his unmarked forces, which appear to be paramilitary troops operating under orders from Homeland Security. Along with excoriating local leaders for failing to bring “a violent mob” of “lawless anarchists” under control, Wolf listed about a month and a half’s worth of supposed violations that apparently warrant disappearing people from the streets of a major American city in his view. Many of them list “violent anarchists” who “graffitied” federal buildings. In other words, watch out for those kids with spray paint.
Wolf also tweeted out praise for the forces Friday. “Our men and women in uniform are patriots. We will never surrender to violent extremists on my watch,” he said. It’s apparently lost on him that these paramilitary forces aren’t “in uniform” if they’re unmarked.
But what Wolf hasn’t done to date is provide any justification for these kidnappings.
“The obvious question about the people that are arrested off the street is, what’s the probable cause?” NBC Justice Correspondent Pete Wilson said Friday on MSNBC. “And we just haven’t gotten a good answer to that question yet.”
Wolf sounds like a problem in search of a solution — which would be removal from office in any reasonable, law-abiding administration. Instead, Wolf’s shadow forces are an obvious extension of Trump’s twisted brain that’s clearly eager to inflict more lawless evils on the nation if Americans give him a second chance this November.
Trump doesn’t just want to be the nation’s president forever — he wants to be its forever dictator. Nothing would please him more than having federal forces at his fingertips indefinitely to cater to his every sick whim.
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