President Donald Trump announced plans to deploy federal law enforcement to Chicago and threatened to send troops to several other major cities run by “liberal Democrats” on Monday.
Governors and other elected officials have swiftly criticized the president’s threats, calling it an election-year stunt meant to mobilize members of his conservative base whose support he has lost in recent months. Many politicians vowed to pass legislation or file lawsuits to stop him.
Unidentified federal agents in military-style camouflaged vans have been sweeping the streets of Portland, Oregon, arresting protestors at random and driving away with them in unmarked vans without probable cause since July 14. These agents were sent by President Trump to “quell” the relatively peaceful protests in Portland against the police killings of Black Americans, which been ongoing since May 29.
These tactical teams are authorized to use brutal crowd-control techniques, such as tear gas, rubber bullets, and indiscriminate mass arrests, while local police are theoretically only allowed to use when they believe their lives are in danger.
Federal agents have seriously escalated the violence in Portland, in part because protestors have confused them for far-right extremists who wear similar unmarked military-style uniforms and use similar techniques to harass and intimidate protestors.
Jann Carson, interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, said that the federal agents’ actions are “flat-out unconstitutional.”
“Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street, we call it kidnapping,” said Carson. “Protestors in Portland have been shot in the head, swept away in unmarked cars, and repeatedly tear-gassed by uninvited and unwelcome federal agents. We won’t rest until they are gone.
Approximately 150 Homeland Security Investigations special agents are standing by to curb the protests in Chicago. President Trump suggested that he would also be deploying agents in Baltimore, Detroit, Oakland, Philadelphia, and New York.
The Department of Homeland Security previously sent at least 200 members of “rapid deployment teams” to Pennsylvania, Portland, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. in the last month. The agents were deployed under an executive order protecting Confederate statues that President Trump signed last month.
The administration currently has an additional 2,000 officials from the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Transportation Security Administration, ready to be deployed to cities across the United States.
The deployment of federal troops is President Trump’s most recent attempt to recast a national uprising over white supremacy and state-sanctioned police violence into an us-versus-them battle for law and order between himself and Democratic local governments.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown, who called the presence of federal agents a “blatant abuse of power,” has denied the president’s allegations that she is afraid of the protestors in her state. Governor Brown has defended the protestors, who President Trump has called militant anarchists, and their right to assemble.
“This is a democracy, not a dictatorship,” Governor Brown said in a statement to KATU News. “We cannot have secret police abducting people in unmarked vehicles. I can’t believe I have to say that to the President of the United States.”
All the cities cited by President Trump have been the sites of protests almost every night for the past two months. Despite consistent and unlawful violent escalation from law enforcement, the protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful. As of today, Portland and Seattle are the only cities that have seen sustained altercations between protestors and law enforcement.
No president in the last decade has threatened to send in or deployed federal law enforcement against the wishes of local government. President Trump’s willingness to ignore this precedent is indicative of his willingness to embrace authoritarian tactics.
Sources: The New York Times 7/21/2020; BBC News 7/21/2020; Washington Post 7/20/2020; Feminist Newswire 7/17/2020