It appears the answer is “yes.”
The Washington Post reports Federal officials dismiss Portland leaders’ calls to leave city as clashes with protesters continue:
A top Homeland Security official on Sunday said the agency will maintain a heavy presence in Portland — and send reinforcements to other U.S. cities if violence surged — as the mayor of Oregon’s largest city implored federal agents to stand down amid escalating clashes with protesters.
Kenneth Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said the agency had deployed tactical units from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to help defend federal buildings and officers in the Pacific Northwest city. He said DHS had expanded its numbers in other cities as well, including Washington, D.C., as demonstrations escalated in recent months.
“You can expect that if violence continues in other parts of the country, the president has made no secret of the fact that he expects us where we can cooperate or have jurisdiction to step forward and expand our policing efforts there to bring down the level of violence,” Cuccinelli said in an interview Sunday.
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Cuccinelli said DHS deployed a number of federal agents to supplement the Federal Protective Service, which guards federal buildings such as courthouses, over the Fourth of July weekend amid growing intelligence that demonstrators were targeting federal buildings. A federal protective officer in Oakland, Calif., was shot and killed in May, allegedly by an Air Force sergeant seizing on the protests to sow mayhem.
He said the deployment took place five weeks into the violence in Portland: “So for anyone to say that our arrival 30 or so days into daily violence in their city was caused by something that showed up later is just illogical and silly.”
“We had intelligence that the federal facilities were going to be further targeted, so we deemed it unsafe for the FPS forces available by themselves,” Cuccinelli said.
He said the reinforcements were highly trained officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s investigative division; Homeland Security Investigations, which probes crimes such as drug and human trafficking; and Customs and Border Protection’s BORTAC tactical unit. He said they were deployed “substantially” over the July 4 weekend — several weeks into the protests — as it became clear that Portland authorities were not tamping down the violence.
He said the FPS is in charge on the ground, and the CBP and ICE support teams are reporting to them. He also discounted a New York Times report that an internal DHS memo said the teams were not trained for mass demonstrations or riot control. And he said they were operating with full authority under the law.
“All of the people in Portland are trained for the mission,” he said. “All the officers present have crowd control training.”
The Huffington Post reports, Trump Prepping To Dispatch Federal Squads To More Democratic Cities, Warns Mark Meadows:
The Trump administration is preparing to roll out a plan this week to send military-style federal assault squads already in Portland, Oregon, into other cities, warned White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who only named locations with Democratic mayors.
Attorney General William Barr is “weighing in on that” with acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, Meadows said Sunday on Fox News.
“You’ll see something rolled out this week, as we start to go in and make sure that the communities — whether it’s Chicago or Portland or Milwaukee or someplace across the heartland — we need to make sure their communities are safe,” he added.
All three cities named are run by Democrats.
President Donald Trump also indicated that federal squads would likely target cities run by the party that opposes him. He said on “Fox News Sunday” that “violence” was on the increase in “Democrat-run cities.”
“They are liberally run, they are stupidly run,” the president added.
Meadows doubled down on what he claimed was the need for a federal crackdown in the face of a wall of criticism. Federal officers in military-style fatigues with no identification began roving downtown Portland in unmarked vans last week, snatching people off the streets. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) blasted the squads Friday as “stormtroopers … kidnapping protesters.”
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DHS head Wolf has railed about “violent anarchists” in Portland, yet the concerns he lists on the DHS website consist mainly of “graffiti” and damaged fences. He tweeted selfies during a recent Portland visit posing with graffiti.
As justification for the assault on Portland, federal authorities have cited a June 26 executive order by Trump directing them to protect federal monuments and buildings.
A brutal new takedown of President Donald Trump’s attacks on American citizens protesting peacefully was released by the Lincoln Project Sunday. ‘This is how it starts’: Lincoln Project releases new attack calling out Trump for sending ‘unmarked agents into our streets’:
“The videos of masked, anonymous government officers attacking American citizens who pose no threat is shocking to watch. Federal agents with no badge are kidnapping civilians into unmarked vans. How is this America?” said Lincoln Project co-founder Reed Galen in a release. “All Americans must be vigilant.”
Like a scene out of “V for Vendetta,” The video describes how Trump’s federal agents, “deputized by a rogue attorney general,” snatched protesters off the streets, threw them into unmarked cars, and took them away somewhere.
“This is how it starts, and freedom dies,” the ad closes.
David Atkins at the Political Animal Blog attempts to explain, Why Is Trump Sending Stormtroopers into Portland? (excerpt):
So why is Trump doing it?
Many theories abound—none of them entirely convincing on their own, but all of them deeply disturbing. One explanation is that it’s a trial run for future police state actions, partly to push the window of the possible, partly to desensitize the public to further abuses, and partly to see precisely what they can get away with and what Americans will tolerate.
This is no doubt true to a certain extent, but the challenge is that it also carries enormous downside risk. If Trump doesn’t win re-election he has less than six months left in his presidency–hardly time enough for a deeply unpopular and divisive president to engineer a police state coup. And just as with the outrage in Lafayette Square, the mere action itself will likely make Trump even more unpopular with the few undecided voters who remain.
Another convergent explanation is that making a show of supposed toughness in conducting military counterinsurgency in Democratic-controlled cities that want no part of it will thrill Trump’s base. This is reasonable to assume, since Trump’s base takes no greater joy than in seeing authoritarian cruelty exercised against their political enemies. And it’s likely true, since Trump is obsessed with his base to the exclusion of all else beyond his own personal profit. But the problem is that almost everyone in the Trump campaign’s immediate orbit beyond the president himself knows that Trump must expand beyond his shrinking base to have any chance of winning re-election. The more Trump gives aging bigots dopamine hits, the more the rest of the country falls away from him. Camouflaged stormtroopers used against American citizens will almost certainly lose him more votes than he gains.
But there is a third explanation, simultaneously dumber and yet more convincing: the Fox News effect. Trump spends endless hours watching garbage cable television, specifically One America News (OAN) and Fox News. Judging from Trump’s tweets, his entire political universe revolves around Fox News–and, more recently, the even more bizarrely propagandistic OAN when even Fox News fails to adequately toe the line.
Ever since the beginning of the protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd, Fox News has been portraying liberal American cities as hellscapes of violence in which the police and the Trump Administration played the role of hero against rampaging hordes. Most Americans, of course, didn’t see it that way. But if you live entirely in the Fox News bubble, then this narrative is as self-evident a truth as the rising of the sun in the east. Most recently, Fox News has been describing Portland in particular, in the words of former Media Matters for America contributor Oliver Willis, as if it were Baghdad circa 2003. This is not the case, of course. Crime rates in Portland have been on a steady decline for decades, with the last month being no significant exception. In fact, the worst Acting HHS Secretary Wolf could point to was literally a few instances of graffiti. No kidding.
But if Fox News were the sum of your reality, you would believe that emergency action needed to be taken before the residents started to erect a Thunderdome and the services of Snake Plissken would be required. You would send in the troops despite the potential cost out of a belief that relieved Americans would be desperately grateful for your embrace of “law and order” (even if it were heavy on the “order” and light on the “law.”) You would do whatever it took to bring the situation to heel, and figure the public approval would follow from the new Pax Trumpiana. After all, Fox News declared it must be so.
This last scenario is admittedly ridiculous. But it’s also likely closest to the truth. While figures like Stephen Miller no doubt have a laser focus on instituting an authoritarian apartheid regime to save white supremacist Republican rule the demographic tsunami preparing to overwhelm them, they are not the president. Donald Trump is. Trump is a man of impulse, not of plans. His head is not set on the next 20 years of power, but on tomorrow’s cable news ratings. The constructed reality of Fox News is his reality. The rest of the authoritarian project follows from there.
And that more than anything else likely explains why the president is precipitating a constitutional crisis by sending stormtroopers into Portland.
Then it occurred to David Atkins that something even more sinister may be at work: Trump May Use DHS Stormtroopers To Stop People from Voting (excerpt):
But there is another deeply alarming possibility to consider. This November will be the first since the expiration of a 1982 consent decree in which the Republican National Committee will be freed to conduct voter suppression and intimidation en masse. As Andy Kroll recently explained at Rolling Stone:
The result of the suit was a 1982 consent decree between the Democratic and Republican parties. Even though the RNC refused to admit wrong-doing in New Jersey, the group agreed to stop harassing and intimidating voters of color, including by deputizing off-duty law-enforcement officers and equipping those officers with guns or badges. Over the next three decades, Democrats marshaled enough evidence of ongoing Republican voter suppression to maintain the consent decree until 2018, when a federal judge lifted the order.
The 2020 presidential election will be the first in nearly 40 years when the RNC isn’t bound by the terms of the 1982 decree. Clark, the Trump campaign lawyer, told the group of Republicans at the private meeting last November that the end of the consent decree was “a huge, huge, huge, huge deal,” freeing the RNC to directly coordinate with campaigns and political committees on so-called Election Day operations. The RNC is sending millions of dollars to state Republican parties to vastly expand these measures, which include recruiting 50,000 poll observers to deploy in key precincts.
So consider the following facts:
1) The Republican National Committee under Trump is set to deploy tens of thousands of likely armed, unbadged goons to try to intimidate voters of color from exercising their right of suffrage;
2) Both Border Patrol and ICE are functioning as largely unaccountable enforcers of the president’s personal whims and interpretations of law, detaining citizens for hours without explanation or formal charges, and operating in direct conflict with local mayors and governors;
3) Border Patrol and ICE both have stridently bigoted, conservative organizational cultures hostile to most people of color and more liberal, urban areas generally–and they are well aware that their powers will likely be curtailed under a possible future Democratic administration [See Pro Publica reporting, Inside the Secret Border Patrol Facebook Group Where Agents Joke About Migrant Deaths and Post Sexist Memes];
4) Trump continues to ramp up rhetoric against nonexistent “voter fraud” in liberal areas. His focus has primarily been on vote-by-mail as a result of the COVID pandemic, but imaginary in-person voter impersonation fraud among communities of color in Democratic-leaning cities has long been a Republican obsession. A senior legal adviser to the Trump campaign recently declared that Trump would win even California if voting were “fair,” showing just how deeply the conspiratorial thinking around this issue runs in top GOP circles.
5) Acting Department of Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf appears to have no constraints on his behavior or his overheated rhetoric, and that the Trump Administration is planning to scale up the use of border patrol agents as a conservative paramilitary nationwide.
6) Donald Trump and his campaign team know by now that absent some explosive scandal around Biden or other unpredictable event to change the fundamentals of the race, the president’s only path to victory lies not in persuading a majority of voters but in choosing his own electorate by suppressing the votes of the majority of Americans who despise him.
Put all of this together, and it opens the possibility of a terrifying abuse of power. We could end up seeing armed private contractors hired by the RNC and affiliated conservative organizations to intimidate Democratic-leaning voters, bolstered by camouflage-wearing taxpayer-funded rifle-toting border patrol agents aggressively checking papers of every voter in line in the guise of “securing against voter fraud” on the president’s orders. This would be happening during the most tense presidential election in our lifetimes during a raging pandemic, often in lines in which voters must wait 8 to 10 hours to vote due to restricted polling places in minority communities–also a blatant suppression attempt enabled by the Supreme Court’s voiding of many of the protections of the Voting Rights Act. The likelihood that these actions would be met with immediate enraged protest would be very high. Election Day violence unheard of since the Civil Rights era could ensue, which would give Trump an excuse to instigate further crackdowns across the country as election day continues. Federal agents could forseeably be sent in to attempt to stop the counting of mail-in ballots in the days following the election on presidential orders. No need for a Brooks Brothers Riot if you can just send in an armed federal paramilitary, instead.
Absent some form of preventive action by states, municipalities, the Democratic Party and left-affiliated organizations, there is very little to stop Trump, Attorney General Bill Barr and Acting DHS Secretary Wolf from attempting any or all of this.
And unlike in normal political circumstances where a party that loses an election can hope and expect to retool and win elections in the future, Republicans know that if they get wiped out in 2020, demographic realities mean it could be the last hurrah for this version of the GOP at a federal level. If Democrats were to follow up a landslide victory with efforts to secure a voting bill of rights, an elimination of gerrymandering and the filibuster, and a rebalancing of the Senate, the courts and the electoral college, the Republican Party would not be able to regain serious federal power in its current form without a realignment. Donald Trump himself would literally be in danger of going to jail. The Republican incentive in November would be to pull out all the stops to prevent this from happening, especially in a census year.
Perhaps these fears are paranoid. But when left organizers warned that ICE and Border Patrol were being converted into an authoritarian paramilitary security force and demanded that they be disbanded and abolished, self-proclaimed serious people in politics tended to dismiss their concerns as so much overheated partisanship. One of the most important lessons of the Trump administration has been that whatever you fear they might do, expect them to do worse if they can get away with it.
Far better to be prepared for such eventualities and be ready to fight back with all available legal means on Election Day, than to be caught surprised by the next unthinkable transgression. If Trump and his cronies can create authoritarian chaos on Election Day to intimidate Democratic voters, they likely will. Portland was just the first step.
“This is how it starts, and freedom dies.”
UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is crafting plans to deploy about 150 federal agents to Chicago this week, the Chicago Tribune has learned, a move that would come amid growing controversy nationally about federal force being used in American cities.