Donald Trump’s ‘GOPstapo’ agents in Portland a preview of things to come?

In June, heavily armed federal agents wearing no badges or identifying markings were patrolling the streets of Washington, D.C., as part of Donald Trump’s bid to “dominate” protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd. Heavily armed men who refuse to identify themselves are patrolling the streets of Washington, DC. They were sent by the Bureau of Prisons:

Wearing helmets and plain uniforms and carrying weapons or riot shields, the officials have refused to identify themselves when asked by reporters what branch of the federal government or military they represent.

One official told Mother Jones’ Dan Friedman that they were with the Department of Justice. That department oversees agencies like the FBI but has no direct enforcement personnel of its own.

Some people on social media discussing the identity of the mysterious officials compared them to the “little green men” Russian President Vladimir Putin sent to annex Crimea in 2014 who wore no insignia identifying them as members of the Russian military.

Some observers noticed that details on the officials’ uniforms indicated that they were members of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The bureau said in a statement to news outlets that the officials were members of a crisis-management unit (like those involved in quelling prison riots).

The bureau said they were “not wearing BOP specific clothing as they are serving a broader mission.”

Now Donald Trump’s “little green men” are in Portland, Oregon. Jeet Heer at The Nation reports, Trump Unleashes His Secret Police in Portland:

Donald Trump’s war on protesters is escalating, with reports emerging out of Portland, Ore., that federal law enforcement officers, wearing camouflage but without any other visible insignia, have been rounding up American citizens. On Thursday, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reported that “federal law enforcement officers have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland and detain protesters since at least July 14. Personal accounts and multiple videos posted online show the officers driving up to people, detaining individuals with no explanation of why they are being arrested, and driving off.”

OPB quotes one person who was arrested by these officers, although never charged. “I am basically tossed into the van,” Mark Pettibone told the broadcaster. “And I had my beanie pulled over my face so I couldn’t see and they held my hands over my head.” He was taken to a building that he later discovered was a federal courthouse. Only there was he read his Miranda rights, but he was never charged. After he asked for a lawyer, he was released. Videos are circulating on social media of similar detentions.

The Washington Post also interviewed Mark Pettibone, ‘It was like being preyed upon’: Portland protesters say federal officers in unmarked vans are detaining them.

On the face of it, what these federal officers are doing is illegal and unconstitutional. It’s possible that they are acting under the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, signed by Barack Obama, which legalized the detention of Americans suspected of being terrorists. If so, then the War on Terrorism has truly come home.

The Trump administration used unidentified federal officers to patrol Washington, D.C., in early June when the scale of the protests forced Trump to go into the White House bunker. Those officers turned out to be guards from the US Bureau of Prisons who had been repurposed as ad hoc praetorian guards.

Protests have been roiling Portland for over six weeks. Even prior to these protests, Portland was a site of a long-running battle between right-wing groups like the Proud Boys and left-wing activists who are usually lumped together under the antifa label. It’s possible that the antifa connection made Portland a spot of particular interest to the Trump administration, which has used the loosely organized anti-fascist groups as a scapegoat for social upheavals in the wake of police brutality.

The deployment of unidentified federal officers is particularly dangerous in a situation like that in Portland and elsewhere in America, because it could easily lead to right-wing militias’ impersonating legal authorities and kidnapping citizens. As former CIA counterintelligence analyst Aki Peritz notes, “All it takes is one of these similar-kitted out militiamen groups to start grabbing folks off the street as well, but then having their way with them, for there to be huge, possibly violent pushback for these tactics. This hurts the police, and the citizenry.” Peritz argues, “We’re quickly entering secret police territory now. DHS is becoming Trump’s Mukhābarāt” (mukhābarāt being the Arabic word for intelligence agency, used colloquially to refer, for example, to the Egyptian or Iraqi or Libyan secret police).

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf is currently in Portland. In a statement on Thursday, Wolf said, “The city of Portland has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city. Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it.” Wolf warned, “This siege can end if state and local officials decide to take appropriate action instead of refusing to enforce the law.”

Wolf’s strident words echoed the law-and-order theme that has come to the fore in Trump’s reelection campaign. Trump himself sounded a racist variation on the theme in a Thursday White House virtual town hall when he decried the collapse of “law and order” in cities like New York and Chicago. Trump also claimed that Democrats were trying to destroy the suburbs. Announcing the rescinding of an Obama order against racial segregation in housing, Trump said, “The suburb destruction will end with us.”

There is every sign that Trump will continue to pound the drum of law and order until the election. Portland is likely a test case for a larger security crackdown that will be repeated in other cities.

Note: This is almost certainly being scripted by the Trump campaign and executives at FOX News to maximize fear mongering over “antifa.” This is the part of this story that the media has yet to investigate.

Jeet Heer’s colleague at The Nation reports, The Border Patrol Was Responsible for an Arrest in Portland:

For days, federal agents in unmarked cars have reportedly been snatching Portland protesters off the streets. On Thursday, video emerged of federal agents clad in camouflage fatigues and unspecified “police” patches apprehending one such demonstrator and placing him in an unmarked vehicle. Social media lit up with speculation about the intentions—and the identity—of these agents. A memo consisting of internal talking points for the federal agency responsible for the arrest, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and obtained exclusively by The Nation provides some answers—and raises even more questions.

Dated July 1, the memo is titled “Public Affairs Guidance: CBP Support to Protect Federal Facilities and Property” and marked “For Official Use Only.” It describes a special task force created by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in response to President Trump’s Executive Order on Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence. That task force, the Protecting American Communities Task Force (PACT), has been tasked not only to assess civil unrest but also to “surge” resources to protect against it.

The Portland arrest of Mark Pettibone, first reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting, followed several similar arrests involving officers from a Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC)—CBP’s equivalent of a SWAT team—as well as the US Marshals Special Operations Group. A CBP spokesman confirmed to The Nation that CBP agents were responsible for the arrest, pointing to authorities under the Protecting American Communities Task Force.

The talking points memo identifies a series of potential questions, including many of those being asked in response to the Portland arrests. In several cases, it instructs CBP officials not to answer them, citing “operational security.” For example, in response to questions about where CBP personnel are being deployed, the memo says “it would not be appropriate to disclose law enforcement operational specifics which could jeopardize operational security.” As for questions about when CBP personnel will be deployed and for how long, the memo states, “We do not give out operational specifics, however we hope this support will be short-term, just for the July 4th weekend.” The CBP spokesman, however, did not give any indication the operation would be coming to an end. “The Department of Homeland Security [DHS] and its components will continue to work tirelessly to reestablish law and order,” he said.

While many people have criticized the alleged lawlessness of the arrests, some even engaging in conspiracy theories about them, these arrests are likely legal, according to current and former federal law enforcement officials interviewed by The Nation. And that’s exactly what makes them so troubling, explains Jenn Budd, a former senior Border Patrol agent.

A former senior DHS intelligence officer explained that while other federal agencies are required to wear identifiers when conducting arrests—NCIS agents have to wear both marked jackets and hats during arrests, for example—that is not the case with the DHS. “The fact is, they don’t have to do anything in marked vehicles,” he said. “Such operations happen all the time and at the discretion of supervisors.”

“If it gives them a tactical advantage, they will find a way to justify it,” a current DHS official told The Nation.

But just because the practice is legal, that doesn’t mean it works in law enforcement’s favor. “It’s good for public image to have visible police presence as a deterrent,” the former intelligence officer said.

“There are all sorts of interesting powers that CBP, ICE and Border Patrol have under Title 42 pandemic law, which has been triggered with Trump’s Covid-19 national emergency declaration,” Budd said. “Even though he claims we should not be in pandemic lockdown, he refuses to lift the emergency declaration because this gives these agencies more authority. All of this is legal because of vague and broad authorities given to these agencies after 9/11.”

Oregon’s governor wants federal officers out of Portland. Trump officials won’t listen.

Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon told us that her contacts with Trump administration officials about the situation had convinced her that “they are not interested in problem solving,” and this has “nothing to do with public safety.”

More troubling still, Brown tells us that the situation had actually been improving in recent days, and that the arrival of federal law enforcement has caused it to deteriorate.

“We know that things were calming down,” Brown, a Democrat, told us. “We know that the presence of federal officers has inflamed the streets.” Over the weekend, a young man protesting was shot in the face and severely wounded by less-than-lethal ammo from federal marshals.

Brown said that on Tuesday, she bluntly told the acting secretary of homeland security, Chad Wolf, that the presence of federal officers in the streets was exacerbating matters.

“I told him that the federal government should remove federal officers from our streets,” Brown told us. “I said it’s like adding gasoline to a fire.”

“I said, ‘We do not want you here, you are exacerbating the situation,’ ” Brown continued, adding that the mayor of Portland had the same conversation with Wolf. “It provokes confrontation to have federal troops on the streets. This is purely for political purposes.”

Wolf refused the request. “It was really clear that they were not interested in conversation,” Brown told us. “If they were interested in a solution, they would have been willing to deescalate and dialogue.”

U.S. Attorney Billy Williams said Friday he wants an investigation into actions of federal officers who have pulled Portland protesters off the street and into unmarked vehicles. US Attorney For Oregon Calls For Investigation Into Portland Protester Arrests:

“Based on news accounts circulating that allege federal law enforcement detained two protesters without probable cause, I have requested the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General to open a separate investigation directed specifically at the actions of DHS personnel,” Williams said in his statement.

At least one officer with the Marshals Service is under investigation for severely injuring a Portland protester July 11 by shooting him in the face with an impact munition round.

Williams said in “limited instances” federal officers may have engaged in questionable conduct, such as the unmarked vehicle arrests, and that he believes investigations by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General are appropriate.

Lisa Hay, Oregon’s federal public defender, said any arrest without probable cause violates the law.

“It’s a fundamental constitutional value that people in this country are free to walk the streets without fear of secret arrest,” Hay said. “That circumstance raises concerns that the arrests occurred without probable cause.”

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum filed a lawsuit Friday evening against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and various affiliated agencies after federal agents began detaining Black Lives Matter protesters in unmarked vehicles earlier this week. Oregon Attorney General Sues DHS to Stop Trump Admin’s Alleged Detention of Protesters:

The lawsuit alleges that agents under the control of Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf “have engaged in unlawful law enforcement in violation of the civil rights of Oregonians by seizing and detaining them without probable cause.” Rosenblum also announced she was launching a criminal investigation of Wolf and his subordinates.

The attorney general said she will immediately follow the lawsuit with a motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) “regarding the forcible detainment” of Oregon resident Mark Pettibone, a protester who said he was plucked off the street before being held at the federal courthouse in Portland and eventually released.

Rosenblum said the TRO, if granted, would immediately force Wolf’s federal agents “from unlawfully detaining Oregonians.”

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon on Friday also filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Marshals Service. ACLU Files Lawsuit To Block Attacks By Federal Agents In Portland Protests:

The lawsuit seeks to block federal law enforcement from dispersing, arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force against journalists or legal observers. It is one of many lawsuits that the ACLU said it will be filing against federal authorities in Portland for “unconstitutional attacks” on demonstrators.

In a statement issued Friday, interim legal director for the ACLU of Oregon Kelly Simon, called for the removal of federal agents from the Oregon city.

“Under the direction of the Trump administration, federal agents are terrorizing the community, risking lives, and brutally attacking protesters demonstrating against police brutality,” Simon said, adding, “We will continue to bring the full fire power of the ACLU to bear until this lawless policing ends.”

Named plaintiffs in the case include The Portland Mercury and individual journalists and legal observers who say they were attacked by law enforcement, among them Matthew Lewis-Rolland, a freelance photographer who federal agents allegedly shot 10 times in the back on Sunday. Others, including freelance journalist Justin Yau, who described accounts of alleged attacks with tear gas by federal agents.  Both Lewis-Rolland and Yau were wearing high-visibility shirts that said “PRESS” at the time of their alleged attacks, the ACLU said.

The lawsuit adds federal agencies to an existing complaint filed last month against local law enforcement in which a federal judge issued an order blocking local law enforcement from dispersing, arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force against journalists or legal observers at protests until October 30.

Undeterred, Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli told NPR on Friday that the DHS intends to use the tactics seen in Portland more broadly.

“With as much lawbreaking is going on, we’re seeking to prosecute as many people as are breaking the law as it relates to federal jurisdiction,” he said, adding,  that “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.”

Donald Trump’s GOPstapo agents have been unleashed against American citizens in the streets of America. Today it’s Portland, tomorrow it may be your town. Resist Trumpism.

UPDATE: Democratic House committee chairs have called for an immediate watchdog investigation into the actions federal officers in Washington, DC, and Portland have taken in response to protests spurred by the death of George Floyd and police brutality. House committee chairs call for IG investigation into use of federal officers to quell Portland and DC protests:

Heads of the House Judiciary, Homeland Security and Oversight and Reform committees sent a letter Sunday to the inspectors general of the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security calling for the investigation.

“As we continue to stand with our fellow citizens protesting systemic racism and police brutality throughout the country, we are increasingly alarmed at the Trump Administration’s use of federal law enforcement to violate the civil rights of our constituents,” the letter states.

“This is a matter of utmost urgency. Citizens are concerned that the Administration has deployed a secret police force, not to investigate crimes but to intimidate individuals it views as political adversaries, and that the use of these tactics will proliferate throughout the country,” the committee chairs wrote. “Therefore, we ask that you commence your review of these issues immediately.”






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