Doubling Down in Portland

Terry H. Schwadron

July 29, 2020

There, that’ll show them.

Donald Trump apparently is sending another 100 unmarked “troops,” members of the U.S. Marshals and Customs and Border Patrol, to Portland to mount either a Maginot-like defense of the federal courthouse or to stage filming for his next campaign ad.

Or both.

Trump is so proud of this that it took The Washington Post to let us know in a leaked memo.

The question here is whether Trump — or in testimony, Atty. Gen. William P. Barr — simply does not see that his aggressive policing tactics are both ineffective in stopping protests, and, indeed, are generating copy-cat, re-energized protests in other cities. Or that Trump actually savors more confrontation as continued reflection of his Law & Order image, even if that now means tear-gassing lines of moms, vets, and dads with leaf blowers to send the gas another way.

The protests, born out of anger about police brutality towards Blacks and minorities, and now turning specifically towards these efforts to edge towards martial law in particular city blocks in cities with Democratic mayors. And, hey, protesters-turned-vigilantes at 1:30 a.m., move over a block or two and there won’t be any federal agents deployed to tear gas, beat and snatch citizens.

Nope, both sides want some news coverage rage film, which the cable stations are happy to oblige, neatly skipping over whole days of more peaceful encounters that actually are the sentiments showing up in worsening political polls for Trump.

People carrying guns bring other people carrying guns, and we’ve already seen some ire spilling out in actual gunshots, — both rubber and real ammo — against protesters and a variety of projectiles, fireworks and lasers in the eye against the enforcers. Is the only way to stop a good federated thug with a gun is a good protester with a weapon?

Can anyone in charge remind all involved here that we’re all supposed to be on the same side?

The Legal Fight

As has become obvious, it may all make for good campaign ads, but not effective policing. In Portland, the nightly action doesn’t start until after midnight and is limited to two blocks. To hear Trump, whole cities are aflame. It is critical as there are deployment to other cities for similar protests.

Meanwhile, the actual protest has moved off the streets inside a courthouse in Washington, D.C., where a lawsuit on behalf of Don’t Shoot Portland, Wall of Moms, and several Black Lives Matter protesters is arguing that federal law enforcement officers are exceeding the limits of their authority. They cite abusive actions by the federal agents violate legal limitations as well as the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution. The complaint alleges that Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf is unlawfully serving in that role, and his orders regarding the Portland deployment are void.

Indeed, as the Trump administration is deploying hundreds of immigration and marshals to other cities, the question is what federal property exactly are they seeking to protect?

Somehow, Trump wants us to view these deployments as a tough White House finally responding to out-of-control rioting, and is using it just as he did the Lafayette Square march through tear-gassed crowds to get that photo of himself with a Bible, even if upside-down and unopened.

What comes across is quite different, of course, a deployment of federal agents in what looks like a personal, partisan campaign effort, mocking both any limitations on presidential power and any effective local policing efforts. As has been noted, where were federal agents when it was gun-toting Trump loyalists threatening state legislators in multiple states over coronavirus bills and orders to wear protective masks?

Just how much of my tax money is being spent on efforts to silence Americans who think Trump is a jerk?

Meanwhile, there is only silence about the brutality and systematic racism issues at the heart of the protest.

The Attorney General speaks

In Congress, Barr was telling the House Judiciary Committee that the federal response has been legal, justified and measured. His appearance was another in a series of well-played argument ping-pong signifying next to nothing. Democrats can’t really touch him or Trump this close to the election, and Barr is skilled at toying with criticism.

Barr actually went to testify to the committee to defend Trump on multiple fronts, including inappropriate involvement in criminal cases, like that of Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, his campaign associates, and to once again deride the Robert S. Mueller III probe of possible connections between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russian operatives.

The hearings, well covered in news outlets of all stripe, served up exactly what a divided country wanted to see — the Right saw justification and unfair treatment toward Trump and team, the Left saw demons and Trump abuse of office.

The Judiciary Committee has asked the Justice Department and Homeland Security inspectors general to investigate whether sending a “secret army” to Portland and other cities were legal orders.

A memo from David L. Bowditch, FBI deputy director, which was unearthed by The New York Times shows that from June 2, federal law enforces saw “a national crisis,” and sought investigation “violent protesters, instigators” and “inciters,” bureau leaders should collect information with “robust social media exploitation teams” and examine what appeared to be “highly organized behavior.”

Democrats repeated have called out Barr for defending Trump as a personal lawyer might rather than represent the electorate. The list of such efforts at both protecting Trump and broadening the power of the office is long and rich, from Russia probes to ignoring whistleblowers to legal interpretations of rules in the president’s favor.

If only all this did not hurt real people: Black citizens are still worried about being mistreated or killed when routinely stopped on minor matters, police are still bound with tasks better left to those with mental health and social services skills, and Trump is running hard for president by ignoring everything but the image he projects in his ads.




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