Unidentified men in camouflage gear were recorded on the streets of Portland last week kidnapping protestors and carrying them away in rented vans. Your acting head of Homeland Security, a Congressional staffer and lobbyist named Chad, acknowledged that the secretive force is acting on his authority, such as it is.
Chad, one of this administration’s unapologetic grifters who never would have survived a nominating hearing, cobbled a low-rent Gestapo from Frankenchunks of various federal agencies, after the military declined to cooperate in the President’s gonzo plans. Chad’s Urban Adventure Squad includes some of the racist goons from America’s most despised federal law enforcement branch, the Border Patrol. Like DHS, Border Patrol is directed by another of Trump’s interim nutjobs who was never submitted for Senate approval. Acting CBP head, Mark Morgan once explained to Tucker Carlson that he could tell whether a detained child would grow up to join MS13 by “looking into their eyes,” and presumably discovering that they weren’t blue.
No one in Portland asked for this. There is no problem in Portland warranting federal intervention. The Mayor, Governor and Senators are all protesting the move, to no effect. Portland police are collaborating with the secret police against the will of Portland’s citizens and their elected officials. Portland’s citizens are being beaten, gassed and kidnapped by criminals. Their police have refused to protect them.
An already impeached President under criminal investigation in New York for banking fraud who is scrambling to keep his financial records secret, has assembled an ad hoc force to invade an American city on a laughable pretext. That force is operating in secret, with no democratic legitimacy or legal authorization, randomly kidnapping and detaining citizens without due process and with the help of local police. As part of this campaign, our crudely militarized Border Patrol is being unleashed on American citizens, far from any border, to intimidate a president’s political opponents.
Those detained report that little happened. One victim was taken to the federal courthouse and held briefly before being released without charges or explanation. That makes sense. A Border Patrol agent has as much authority to arrest someone spraying graffiti in Portland as a school crossing guard does. If these ad hoc Stormtroopers aren’t ready to whisk people away to detention camps or kill them, then this is either political theater or a rehearsal for something more sinister. We can’t afford to wait and see, but we already have some clues.
Republicans intend to expand this assault. Last Saturday, John Catanzara, the Obersturmführer of Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police, sent a letter to President Trump inviting him to invade Chicago and wrest control from its elected leadership. Portland was a test.
We’re seeing Republicans’ ill-conceived but dangerously bold plan to preserve their power beyond the Trump Era: Manufacture a pretext with help from fascist cops to stage federal interventions that disrupt life in opposition cities. Since the military and professional law enforcement like the FBI are too disciplined and well-trained to cooperate, Republicans are using the interim hacks leading minor federal agencies to recruit armed goons from their ranks. They’re unleashing those unprofessional, ill-trained and ideologically motivated Frankenforces to riot in target cities. Republicans are trying to use footage of their engineered riots to justify the kind of crackdowns necessary to derail an election in which Republicans would otherwise face an existential defeat. Failing that, they will have built, trained and tested a fascist insurgency that will persist inside a new Administration, ready to be called on by the people whose authority it truly respects. This insurgency rising from within our law enforcement infrastructure will continue until it’s forcefully confronted and dismantled.
Back in 2016, under a previous blog, I wrote a piece titled Do not stab the Nazis, laying out the case for strictly non-violent resistance to fascists. Conditions underlying those arguments included a law enforcement infrastructure under the control of, and accountable to democratically elected leadership. Those conditions no longer exist. Police and federal law enforcement have signaled their commitment to resist democratically elected authority in pursuit of their own aims. We cannot assume that the police will enforce the law or yield to public will.
What is the appropriate response? So far, Democrats have made angry statements and filed lawsuits. Or in other words, they have done nothing, so this assault is expanding to fill the void left by their cowardice. If there’s anything we learned from the Supreme Court’s last term, it’s that the Courts will carefully remain on the sidelines to preserve its own power. The law won’t save us. What will we do about a President who openly and proudly spits on the law? Call the cops?
At what point should protests be augmented by more direct action against the regime? What shape should such action take?
Nonviolence relies on certain political conditions. Nonviolent resistance corners an enemy, forcing them to either yield to demands, or stage a demonstration of brutality that would undermine their popular support or moral validity. What if your enemy doesn’t need popular support and doesn’t care about moral validity? How successful was non-violence in Syria or Russia?
Alexander Solzhenitsyn warned us of this moment in The Gulag Archipelago. From the perspective of a survivor of the gulags he could see the fragility beneath the entire campaign, how vulnerable Stalin’s machine had been all along.
What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand? After all, you knew ahead of time that those bluecaps were out at night for no good purpose. And you could be sure ahead of time that you’d be cracking the skull of a cutthroat. Or what about the Black Maria sitting out there on the street with one lonely chauffeur-what if it had been driven off or its tires spiked? The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt!
Russians never organized even a modest effort to resist Stalin’s purges, but they had ample excuses. Their nation was primitive to begin with and ruined by war. Infrastructure for communication and organization outside official channels was nearly non-existent. They had no access to independent information, no data, no capacity even to understand what was being leveraged against them. We have no such excuses.
We understand the evil we face whether we want to acknowledge it or not. We understand from history the progress of Fascism and the ways it unfolds. We know, or should know by now, that Republicans are beyond rational bounds or negotiation. We know that the regime under which we live has no scruples, no legitimacy, no morals, limited in its abuses only by the constraints of its own incompetence and madness. And we’ve had ample warning that Republicans will not allow their power to be constrained within the democratic process.
Despite these desperate efforts, Trump will likely lose in November. However, Trump’s defeat will not end this struggle, only removing its immediacy and much of the momentum of the resistance. Republicans have made clear that they won’t stop their efforts to dismantle the American experiment just because they lose an election. We cannot be confident that a change in our elected leadership will bring this nightmare to an end.
This does not mean that people should rampage through the streets smashing windows. They absolutely should not. It means that we’ve reached a moment in which the full spectrum of resistance to this regime, including coercion, is not only morally appropriate, but necessary for our survival. America’s left desperately needs a more nuanced understanding of the role of coercion and broad disobedience alongside other elements of power. An unconsidered, blanket objection to violence in every case along with stubbornly futile appeals to the courts are a heritage of privilege, marker of a liberal white establishment who never had a baton cracked over their heads.
What would an ordered, responsible, and effective full-spectrum resistance to this regime look like? Just as importantly, how, and under what circumstances, should such a campaign be concluded? These are not hypothetical questions. We have to find answers and deploy them as quickly as possible before crucial windows of opportunity close.
We’ve been here before. The Founders’ final words from the Declaration of Independence:
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.