By the Editorial Board
Contempt is the only appropriate word to summarize the feeling of the people with regard to the increased federal repression against protesters in Portland and other cities across the US. Ultra-reactionary President Donald Trump is making good on his fascist speech delivered last month at Mount Rushmore, deploying federal agents under his executive order which authorized the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other federal agencies to provide “troops to assist in the protection of federal monuments, memorials, statues or properties.” Trump has concentrated these agents in cities which he sees as swinging too far to the left.
US Border Patrol and Customs have been documented arresting protesters on public streets nowhere near federal property, and worse, they have done so secretly, kidnapping protesters and forcing them into unmarked vehicles. Border Patrol has long deployed fascist tactics against undocumented workers along the southern US border, and similar tactics are now being utilized in this interest against documented and US-born working people in the context of the May Uprisings and the movement against police.
In spite of numerous arrests in Portland during the first wave of the May Uprisings, Trump considered the local Democrats too soft on suppressing the rebellions and ordered in the federal agencies.
The increased repression from the highest levels of the US imperialist state has not quelled the protests, in fact, it has only intensified them. Over the weekend, the Portland Police Association office was broken into and set on fire. Protesters were also successful in dismantling the fence erected by federal officers only hours after it was set up to protect the federal courthouse. In protests throughout the week, several fires had been set close to the courthouse. Many have used umbrellas, shields, fireworks, leaf blowers, and other items to protect themselves from teargas and projectiles fired by the federal officers.
Solidarity actions with the Portland protesters have been called for across the US. The action of the federal government is throwing gas on the fire. It is an unstable and desperate attempt to snuff out the wave of rebellion following the murder of George Floyd, which was the spark that ignited the great May Uprisings across all major US cities as well as many smaller towns. Trump hopes the federal police will strike fear into the hearts of the people, but it is only pushing them further toward rebellion.
Federal police, including the Border Patrol, US Marshals, and Homeland Security have made a concerted effort to crush the protest movement with brute force. Even the ruling class monopoly media outlets have drawn similarities to the activity of fascist regimes who kidnap dissenters. The news has covered the use of tear gas, the unmarked vehicles and unmarked agents in military fatigues who have detained and arrested protesters without stated reason, transporting them in blindfolds to secret, undisclosed locations.
Numerous videos have surfaced online of actions that many segments of the ruling class itself question as illegal. Trump himself expressed that the more than 50 days of rebellion in Portland were “worse than Afghanistan,” which exposes the role of imperialism at home and abroad as a brutally repressive force, as well the fact that Trump considers the federal invasion of Portland to be a warlike maneuver to put down insurrection. He is currently testing how far he can enact this force within the US borders.
On July 12, the federal agents shot Donavan La Bella in the face as he held a speaker over his head, inflicting serious injuries that will require reconstructive surgery. Law enforcement has carried out similar atrocities against protesters throughout the uprisings, such as the the shootings of Austin youth, Justin Howell and Brad Levi Ayala, both shot directly in the head by rubber bullets. Howell’s family stated that he has permanent brain damage.
In video of another incident from Portland, federal officers are seen wildly swinging a baton at 53-year-old Navy veteran Christopher David, who withstood the attack mostly without budging, only backing away after agents shot pepper spray at point-blank range into his face. His hand was broken in the encounter. He said he was motivated to protest after seeing the kidnappings of protesters, telling local news, “I was very concerned about that because if the federal government can do that, anybody can go to the store and buy… used combat fatigues, get an unmarked minivan, and then go off and abduct people off the streets.”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has called for the removal of the federal troops, and accused Trump of using them as his “personal army.” Wheeler referred to the statements from Trump and the Department of Homeland Security as “an attack on democracy.”
Regarding the legality of federal policing in Portland, federal regulations gives US Customs and Border patrol agents authority to operate within 100 miles of any “port of entry” or land and coastal borders, which includes more than 2/3 of the US. Nominally, they are not allowed to arrest US citizens without reasonable suspicion of immigration violations, however it is a known fact that Homeland Security departments regularly flout regulation without any legal repercussion.
On Wednesday, Wheeler joined the protests in a bid to win public support for his upcoming election, positioning himself on the front lines. He was decried by activists who told him that it was not “a photo op.” As he spoke, Federal officers deployed teargas against the gathering.
Wheeler also operates as the local police commissioner, and his temporary sympathy should not be confused with a pro-people agenda. The Democrats and social democrats seek to make electoral gains on the backs of the people’s struggle while not doing anything to curtail the government’s repressive rampage. This is stock-in-trade political opportunism on the part of the Democrats and not a real contradiction in the ruling class.
A few days after the federal deployment, the Democrats signed a bill authorizing a $50 billion increase to DHS funding. Not only will the imperialist ruling class not curtail these fascist tactics, they are actively funneling the resources necessary to continue it. The poverty of the Democrats’ electoralism is apparent in their failure to address the issues and the opposition of the ruling class’s liberal wing is only rhetorical.
Trump’s approval rate is plummeting to all-time lows, and he is banking on a ‘law and order’ strategy to reenergize his base. The desperation of the most reactionary and terroristic sections of the ruling class is motivating dangerous power moves in the midst of the current economic crisis, which gives impulse to fascist trends. As many have observed, the kidnapping tactics that have been employed by federal agents are ripe for imitation by civilian fascists, who may attempt to replicate them in order to disappear protesters and militants off the streets. Situational awareness and alertness are a must for all activists to defend against these threats.
The Democrats call to “unite the country” against Trump’s “divisiveness,” but this is only a call for ruling class unity so they may end the uprisings and protest movements in ways that most conform with their interests of conducting exploitation as usual.
In a speech on Wednesday, Trump doubled down on the use of federal agents, stating that Americans “must insist that community officials fully support, fully back, and fully fund their local police departments.”
Citing increased homicide rates in cities run by “liberal Democrats,” Trump stated that he would expand “Operation LeGend,” named after LeGend Taliferro, a four-year-old Black boy who was murdered in his home in Kansas City, Missouri late last month. The operation could expand into cities such as Chicago, Albuquerque, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, and Oakland. Trump opportunistically utilized the death of a young Black child to expand the terror that police enact upon Black people across the United States.
In spite of the massive display of force in Portland and elsewhere, Trump’s gambit is only giving further energy to the protest movement against police murders of Black People. The federal agents are not invincible storm troopers – protesters in Portland have been getting more organized on the ground, and carried out numerous de-arrests, at times even pushing agents to retreat back into the federal courthouse, which is awash in anti-police and pro-people graffiti. The federal forces have been hunkering down in the courthouse as the protests begin to swell again, and this last weekend saw thousands in the streets, united in their demand for the federal forces to leave Portland.
Trump will undoubtedly persist with his fascist rollout of federal troops in American cities, but the people have already shown their capacity and readiness to fight back against the open terror of the imperialists. We can only expect more organized and militant responses that stand up to the futile intimidation.