THIS SECRECY IS NO ACCIDENT
By Eri Pappas
Donald Trump’s administration has taken ownership of the federal forces violently policing the streets of Portland, Oregon, throughout most of July. The troops are alleged to be members of several federal agencies; however, which agencies have been deployed, and with what permission, has not been explained. THIS SECRECY IS NO ACCIDENT.
These unmarked federally deployed agents operate under unknown leadership, with unknown training, and have unknown intentions. We believe the federal troops are a blatant scare tactic, deployed through loopholes in the legal system. We recognize them as an enforcing body of an authoritarian regime, not of the American promise of a democracy.
In an official statement on Jul. 29, Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced she and the White House had come to an agreement that the unrequested federal troops would begin a “phased withdrawal” the following day. Oregon state police would assume the responsibility of safekeeping Portland’s courthouse, while, presumably, protecting protesters’ First Amendment rights.
Trump has maintained his stance on the use of this force being constitutional in order to safeguard the city’s courthouse, which is federal property. Protesters have gathered there to oppose police brutality and to fight for justice for Black people in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others.
According to reports from Portland, the forces appear to have backed off. Nights have seen peaceful protests, monitored by state police without altercation. However, Trump tweeted on Jul. 31, “Homeland security is not leaving Portland until local police complete cleanup of Anarchists and Agitators!” Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf also told Fox News that federal troops would remain until the courthouse is “safe and secure.”
So we can suspect that the troops are still present (a possibility further enforced by the governor’s unspecific “phased withdrawal”), and are waiting for protesters to become comfortable with less violent state police before resuming their aggressive tactics.
Video footage has repeatedly shown camouflaged troops escalating their use of force without apparent justification. Agents nightly combated protesters with tear gas, munitions, and batons, and grabbed people off the streets and took them to unmarked white vans without proper arrest procedures.
The harrowing force practices aside, what’s striking about the happenings in Portland is that the Trump administration has found a way for it to be legal, or close enough to it for lawmakers not to have grounds for immediate counteraction. Take, for example, one of the agencies with troops purportedly on the ground: the Federal Protective Service. Its most recent public report was released, notably, in 2015. The report states the agency’s responsibilities include “protecting U.S. government facilities.” Without any public update in the past five years as to exactly what this branch is up to, it’s not difficult to realize that Trump and Wolf could warp its responsibilities and permissions when resurrecting it. There were twenty-two different components that combined to make the DHS — can you name what each of them can and cannot do?
There have been reports of officers in New York City operating with similar tactics. A video has circulated of officers yanking Nikki Stone, an 18-year-old trans woman, out of a group of demonstrators and forcing her into an unmarked van. This sparked concerns that Trump had followed through on his threat to police other Democrat-led cities with similar occupation.
However, on Twitter, the NYPD has claimed responsibility for the arrest, stating that it was standard procedure for an individual with a warrant, like they had for Stone for allegedly destroying police cameras earlier this month at the City Hall encampment.
The message here: we are watching, and we will getcha. That the onus is on NYPD, rather than federal agents, does not offer much consolation. Police departments are so “obnoxious,” to put it mildly and to quote Governor Cuomo’s press conference statement, that their norm is an emulation of the paramilitary practices of Portland’s secret police.
I’m less worried about what’s unlawful (part of me still trusts, for some reason, that someone somewhere in the justice system will do something about this) about the secret police and am more worried about what is, somehow, lawful about this administration’s exercise of the darkest and most authoritarian practices of law enforcement.