Conflict Continues in Portland

Trump's 'Secret Police Force' Casts 

a Dystopian Pall

By Cheryl Eichar Jett
   EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. - July 24, 2020 - Citizens of the fictional country of Oceania feared the Thought Police in George Orwell's dystopian – some say prescient – novel entitled 1984. After Donald J. Trump won the 2016 presidential election, Amazon sold out of Orwell's book. Will the outrage over the unmarked military police at the Portland, Oregon, Black Lives Matter protests spike another round of social protest book sales?

The Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse. Photo by Steve Morgan. Creative Commons License.

   While the Oceania Thought Police are fiction, the unmarked military descending from unmarked rental vans to harass, injure, and kidnap protesters in Portland are disturbingly real. Real enough to cast a dystopian shadow across the United States as U.S. President Donald J. Trump and his willing sidekicks, Attorney General William Barr and Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, violate civil rights in Portland and threaten to send uninvited federal law enforcement into other major U.S. cities to do their bidding.
   Against the background of intense and ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, unidentified (except for a generic “police” patch on their camo uniforms) paramilitary showed up in Portland earlier in July. And they are still there. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) claimed them and insists the forces are in Portland to defend federal buildings against violent anarchists, although the statement they initially released simply lists instances of graffiti. Meanwhile, the protesters aren't backing down. If anything, their numbers are increasing as the “Wall of Moms” and subsequently the “Portland Dads with leaf blowers” have shown up to help protect the young protesters. Ironically, consider the pepper spraying of Portland's Mayor Ted Wheeler at an anti-police brutality protest.
  Condemnation of the troops' presence and actions has been swift and fierce. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, urging that “the Department of Justice (DOJ) must begin the necessary, independent, and thorough process of appointing a special prosecutor to investigate and, if warranted, prosecute, those responsible for ordering and carrying out attacks on protesters.” Democratic mayors of major cities across the country have also pushed back in a letter sent to both DHS and DOJ.
   During the past several days, criticism has been relentless. On Tuesday, July 21, on the MSNBC TV show “Deadline Whitehouse,” journalist and national-affairs analyst John Heilemann called the unmarked military in Portland a “trial run” for actions in additional cities. Heilemann posed the question, “Is this going to be used as voter intimidation on Election Day?” Eric Holder, former U.S. Attorney General during the Obama administration, also appearing on the show, said that Trump “may be planning to delegitimize the election this way.”
  Also on Tuesday, Retired Three-Star Lt. General Russel Honore, who became the voice of reason and an American hero with his decisive and effective action after he was put in charge of the Hurricane Katrina effort in 2005, was on fire on “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams.” Honore, with a long and well-respected military career behind him, vociferously decried the paramilitary actions, “What kind of bullsh** is this? Wolf [DHS Acting Secretary] needs to be run out of Washington. He has no business being in charge of Homeland Security . . . they have denigrated this to a lawless group who go around and think they can suppress demonstrators.”
   On Wednesday, the concern clearly grew. Appearing on “Meet the Press Daily” (MTPD), Sen. Ed Merkley, D-Oregon, opined that Trump is simply planning to stir up more trouble in order to present himself as the savior. Also on Wednesday's MTPD, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon said that we are “looking down the barrel of martial law during an election.” In reference to the Black Lives Matter protest, Wyden stated that Donald Trump and Chad Wolf have “basically inflamed the situation.” Yet another guest was Mayor Quinton Lucas, D-Kansas City, Missouri, who quipped that instead of a dog whistle it's “dog barking” from Trump.
   On Wednesday evening, on “The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell,” Neal Katyal, an MSNBC contributor and Professor of National Security Law at Georgetown University Law Center, formerly Acting Solicitor General of the U.S., analyzed the situation. In terms of policy problems, “we see secret unmarked agents beating and teargassing the American people,” Katyal explained. “Legally . . . what we are seeing is rebellion against our deepest constitutional principles. This is a betrayal of what America's about.” An hour later on “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams,” Steve Schmidt, the always-eloquent former Republican strategist and founder of the Lincoln Project, called the deployment “federal thuggery.” He added, “It's out of control, and no American should stand for this.”
   This week, an Oregon court is hearing a lawsuit seeking a restraining order barring federal agents in Portland from restraining citizens. Sen. Ron Wyden testified that these actions by Trump are nothing more than part of his re-election campaign, with film footage being obtained for his “law and order” platform. A ruling is expected yet this week.
   Chad Wolf, the former lobbyist appointed by Trump to the position of Acting Director of Homeland Security, defended his actions in a July 21 press conference, and in subsequent appearances on news shows. “We will not retreat,” he stated. Wolf was previously an architect of the Trump administration's family separation policy.
   Trump is threatening to deploy federal forces to other major cities (with Democratic mayors) in what he calls “Operation Legend.” Acting DHS Secretary Wolf insists this is different from the situation in Portland, making the distinction that in Portland they are protecting federal buildings from violent rioters, while in the other cities the intent is to assist with overcoming a high violent crime rate. Trump's “Democrat cities” rhetoric and a crackdown on local crime are being conflated, and mayors aren't buying it. Both Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzger and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot have pushed back strongly against federal forces arriving in Chicago.
   Trump's authoritarian deployment of unmarked baton-wielding federal troops into America's major cities against the wishes of their mayors is a chapter that's going to be hard to close the book on any time soon. This is not dystopian fiction, but the sad and shocking reality, and it's still being written.