By TEO INGA and SEBASTIAN GEISEL
On July 16, federal agents, armed and camouflaged, roved around Portland, Ore., forcibly abducting a total of nine passersby after a peaceful protest. Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that one protester ran when confronted by the men, unable to distinguish that an arrest was occurring rather than a kidnapping.
This practice of abrupt abductions appears set to be practiced nationwide, and would echo the current police abuse of the charge of “resisting arrest.” Police Commissioner William Dwyer of Warren, Mich., is even asking prosecutors to upgrade a resisting arrest charge to a felony.
In a tweet on July 20, Trump mentioned New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, and Oakland as additional cities where “more federal law enforcement” was being contemplated. He stated that in Portland, “they’ve done a fantastic job.”
Oregon Governor Kate Brown called the practice “political theater from President Trump.” She continued, “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.”
The forces used in Portland are controlled by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). According to multiple statements from DHS Secretary Chad Wolff, the operation was carried out by federal agents due to a lack of use of force by local police to “restore order.” Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli went on record to criticize local officials’ refusal to use gas and shoot protesters with not-as-lethal rounds. Secretary Wolff then went on to villainize protesters in a fear-mongering fashion that was reminiscent of occupational racist Tucker Carlson, calling them a “violent mob” and “lawless anarchists.” The “violence” described by Wolff is reported to be composed mostly of graffiti and minor property damage.
This strategy of painting those who stand up against inequality as violent by DHS has no basis in reality, which is ironically recognized by research conducted by the federal government that shows that 73% of “extremist” acts from 2001 to 2017 were from right-wing sources (see: https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/683984.pdf).
Trampling First Amendment rights
The current federal response is an evolution stemming from the Protecting American Communities Task Force, which was announced on July 1, 2020, supposedly as a way to protect federal property in direct response to BLM protests. This new task force recruits from multiple agencies under the control of the Department of Homeland Security, including the Customs and Border Protection (CPB) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These agencies are known for their trampling on due process and cruelty towards various immigrant communities.
It is no accident that CBP and ICE agents are being used to lead the charge against First Amendment rights. The function of both departments has been to round up immigrants en masse to be held indefinitely with no trial. ICE especially is known for its ruthlessness and subterfuge, detaining people in hospitals, courthouses, and other public facilities, often using false pretenses. The CBP has a long-standing practice of effectively deputizing right-wing paramilitary groups to help with patrolling the border. The Department of Homeland Security as a whole played a big part in instigating violence against Indigenous demonstrators fighting against the Standing Rock Pipeline. There is undeniable continuity between indefinite detention.
While the Protecting American Property task force’s supposed goal is the protection of federal property and monuments, images and video showing the situation in Portland demonstrate a completely different reality, with unidentified paramilitary forces abducting protesters, and in one case beating street medics with batons. This is a continuation and advancement of previous administrations’ moves toward authoritarianism—taking tactics used in the streets of Iraq back home to Portland and, if Trump and the DHS have their way, soon the whole nation. Deputy Director of the DHS Ken Cuccinelli stated, “This is a posture we intend to continue not just in Portland but in any of the facilities that we’re responsible for around the country.”
What falls under DHS jurisdiction, other than specific federal buildings? One area is a 100-mile wide border enforcement zone, where 2/3 of this nation’s population resides, and where CPB and ICE have been granted extensive policing powers. In effect, most major U.S. population centers fall within this zone.
Trump & Obama bash “terrorists” and “left-wing extremists”
The Trump administration has cited U.S. Code 1315 and the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which empower the Secretary of Homeland Security to send “officers and agents” to protect federal property and enforce pertinent laws.
The use of federal personnel to “assist with the protection of Federal monuments, memorials, statues, or property” is also authorized in accordance with Trump’s June 26, 2020, “Executive Order on Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence.” That order maintains that “anarchists and left-wing extremists have sought to advance a fringe ideology that paints the United States of America as fundamentally unjust and have sought to impose that ideology on Americans through violence and mob intimidation.”
The order further states: “In the midst of these attacks, many State and local governments appear to have lost the ability to distinguish between the lawful exercise of rights to free speech and assembly and unvarnished vandalism. They have surrendered to mob rule, imperiling community safety, allowing for the wholesale violation of our laws, and privileging the violent impulses of the mob over the rights of law-abiding citizens.”
Many news outlets will have you thinking that abducting protesters is particular to Donald Trump’s administration. However, Donald Trump’s recent escalations were made possible with a tool forged by the Obama administration.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2012, sections 1021 and 1022, gave the U.S. military the power to detain Americans suspected of involvement in terrorism without charge or trial and imprison them for an indefinite amount of time. This bill was signed as ISIS was being cited as a threat that called for these revocations of rights.
Obama reassured citizens and critics with a lackluster public statement, despite effectively eliminating the right of habeas corpus. “I taught the Constitution for 10 years, I believe in the Constitution, and I will obey the Constitution of the United States.” Obama said. He also falsely cited this law as redundant, claiming it was the same as Bush’s Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2001, which eliminated the need for a charge or trial for those suspected to be in collaboration with the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Fight state violence with mass mobilizations!
Both wings of the major ruling-class parties stand firmly against the civil liberties of working people. The Democrats and Republicans have gone to great lengths to trample these rights whenever possible. The tension between “carrot and stick” is playing out as Juneteenth becomes a recognized holiday, many cities consider minor budget cuts to their police departments, and politicians say that now they will really start caring about Black people. At the same time, state violence is being used to curtail the ongoing movement calling for an end to police brutality, white supremacy, and the social order in which they are fundamental components.
Whether or not the Trump administration is able to expand these practices nationwide depends on working people’s and oppressed people’s ability to mobilize for democratic rights. The period since the May 25 killing of George Floyd gives decisive proof that the masses in this country are ready and able to wage such a fight.
Workers in every city and town must follow the example of Portland, which in the face of unmasked federal repression has doubled the size of its demonstrations. Over 2000 demonstrated in the area around Portland’s federal courthouse on the night of July 20.
Illustration by General Strike Graphics.