Cue the black helicopters and lace up the jack boots. President Donald Trump is weaponizing federal forces in a blatantly political bid to stir up urban strife. Federal agents in military-style uniforms, stripped of all identifying insignia, have stormed through downtown Portland, Oregon, beating Black Lives Matter protesters and conducting roundups.
The deployment is eerily reminiscent of storm troopers used by Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro to conduct summary arrests and silence pro-democracy activists. Trump argues that the move is to protect federal buildings and monuments. But the agents, including some apparently from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, have expanded their reach beyond federal property.
Trump's first attempt at this violent strategy was the June 1 seizure by federal troops of Lafayette Square across from the White House so he could stage a photo op. Military commanders objected publicly to Trump's use of troops for that political stunt. Now he's using agents from policing forces that don't fall under Pentagon command.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown says she never requested federal intervention. "This is a democracy, not a dictatorship. We cannot have secret police abducting people in unmarked vehicles." Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was quoted as calling the action "an attack on our democracy."
Agents have been photographed seizing people off the streets and shoving them into unmarked vehicles, without any indication of the arresters' names, what agency they represent, what authority they have, or what infraction the detainees allegedly committed. A 53-year-old Navy veteran is seen in one video standing motionless as one federal agent swings his baton with both hands. He clubs the veteran five times while another agent douses the man with chemical spray.
Trump reportedly is planning to expand this intervention to other cities. Hardly by coincidence, all of his targeted cities — New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland — happen to be run by Democrats. Trump is assuming authoritarian powers that should alarm everyone, particularly conservatives who have long voiced fears of federal overreach and "black helicopter" surveillance.
Hardly by coincidence, a new Trump campaign ad falsely portrays his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, as a supporter of the leftist defund-the-police movement. The ad shows violent protesters smashing windows in urban settings while a fake 911 operator says, "Due to defunding of the police department, we're sorry but no one is here to take your call. ... Our estimated wait time is currently five days. Goodbye."
Trump's shameless tactics seem designed to provoke angry outrage and more violence from the left, thus affirming his portrayal of the lawless urban America that a Biden presidency would yield. Both parties should condemn it in the strongest possible terms as the blatant abuse of authority that it is.
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