By David Futrelle
You may have seen the video on Twitter: two federal law enforcement officers, kitted out as if they’re patrolling the streets of Kabul, march across a Portland street, grab a seemingly peaceful protester standing on the sidewalk and hustle him into an unmarked van. (If you haven’t seen the video, it’s below.)
It looks for all the world like a state-sponsored kidnapping, the sort of thing we’re more used to seeing in authoritarian regimes. But maybe that’s what we’re becoming.
As Willamette Week notes:
The sight of armed federal officers—who look dressed for overseas combat or the U.S. border they are trained to protect—is an alarming one for many citizens. The image summons memories of other moments of civil unrest in U.S. history: National Guardsmen shooting college students at Kent State in 1970, or federal troops responding to the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992.
For the past several weeks, a ragtag army of federal law enforcement officials from four different departments, including Border Patrol and Homeland Security, have been running wild in downtown Portland, treating it like their own private fiefdom. They were send there, unrequested, by Donald Trump, who thinks they’re doing a “great job.” On Monday he said,
Portland was totally out of control. We very much quelled it, and if it starts again, we’ll quell it again very easily. It’s not hard to do, if you know what you’re doing.”
The feds have already seriously injured one peaceful protester, whom they shot in the head with supposedly “less-lethal” ammunition while he was standing in the street holding a speaker over his head. His skull was fractured and he has had to undergo facial reconstruction surgery. Portland police are barred by a restraining order from using tear gas and “non-lethal” munitions on protesters, except in life-threatening circumstances; the feds are not.
Elected officials want them out. Oregon senator Ron Wyden has compared the federal officers to an “occupying army.” Portland mayor Ted Wheeler tweeted that “We do not want or need their help.”
The Portland Police have been making some questionable arrests themselves. In the video below, you can see an officer knock a bike rider to the ground and a swarm of police descend on him. It’s not clear what, if anything, the biker did to deserve such treatment.
What the feds are doing in Portland is indefensible, a clear attempt to intimidate all protesters, peaceful or otherwise and effectively deny them their right to protest. But the bigger worry is what Trump may do next. Trump has complained endlessly that the mayors of large cities like Chicago and Washington DC aren’t doing enough to control violence (and protests) in their streets, and has long threatened to send in the feds in to do the job for them, so to speak.
Is Portland merely a dry run for a much larger campaign to intimidate protesters in big, Democratic cities? Does he plan to use federal officers to intimidate voters come November? Is what’s happening in Portland a strange one-off experiment or is it just the beginning of a wave of political repression to come? What happens if heavily armed Trump supporters and “boogaloo” fanatics decide to get involved? I shudder to think.
Is there anything we can do about this? Nothing but raise our voices in protest and, for those able to, put our bodies on the line.
UPDATE: There’s finally some national news coverage of this. See this newer post of mine for links.
Below, you can find an assortment of Twitter threads I’ve found useful in making sense of what’s happening. (Just FYI, I don’t necessarily agree with all the analyses; I just think these threads contain helpful perspectives and useful information)
Feel free to post additional links in the comments below — articles, blog posts, tweets, etc. If you’re in Portland now and have seen this first hand, please share your story.
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