Americans Must Stand Up to Secret Police
We saw them in Washington, D.C. We are seeing them in Portland, Ore. They soon could be coming to a city or town near you.
Federal agents without badges or identification, dressed head-to-toe in military fatigues, appear prepared to fan out across the country to subdue left-wing protesters and demonstrations. Using the murky legal justification that they are protecting federal buildings, these units are bypassing local law enforcement and ignoring local officials’ demands to leave.
This is the Trump administration’s threat to “dominate the streets” in action.
In D.C. last month, federal agents from the Bureau of Prisons assisted removing peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park so that Donald Trump could take his now infamous Bible-holding photo in front of St. John’s Church. In Portland, over the last week we have continued to see images that many thought impossible in an American city.
Paramilitary forces that look straight out of The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale have arrived to bring civilians in line. From firing tear-gas and so-called non-lethal rounds willy-nilly at protesters, to snatching individuals off the street and stuffing them into unmarked rental vans, these agents are operating within their own set of guidelines.
These militarized actions appear more inline with banana-republic South American states from the 1970s.
Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr have essentially deputized federal law-enforcement agencies that are most loyal to them, and are turning them into their own special force. The agents currently terrorizing Portland protesters belong to the U.S. Marshals Special Operation Group and the Customs and Border Protection’s Border Patrol Tactical Unit, according to a report by Oregon Public Broadcasting.
These are both special tactical units that are not designed to handle mass demonstrations. The U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group generally responds to emergencies throughout the country and in our territories. Vandalism, setting up barricades in the streets and some property damage hardly seems to qualify as a national emergency.
The Border Patrol’s BORTAC unit, which is essentially the equivalent of a SWAT team, is designed to respond to terrorist threats and conduct dangerous drug raids on high-value targets. There are no terrorists or drug lords protesting in Portland.
What do these two special units, and the Bureau of Prisons’ officers who were brought to D.C., all have in common? They deal with a segment of the population that has limited rights or is unfamiliar with their constitutional protections. That has become obvious, as they have been caught on camera violating civil rights wherever they go.
In one widely seen video, a man is grabbed off the sidewalk by two individuals dressed as soldiers and taken away as he pleads, “I didn’t do anything wrong.” In another, a man using chalk to write on a sidewalk is pounced upon by multiple armed men in camouflage fatigues.
These scenes are troubling on many levels. These are highly disciplined tactical units being used for purposes that are not within their purview. Furthermore, since they refuse to identify themselves, any right-wing militiaman could show up to a city where these units are operating, attempt to blend in and successfully kidnap civilians.
Tonight in Portland, there is no way to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate officers. It is crucial civilians know who is operating within the law for their own personal safety. Resisting arrest in this country is frequently a death sentence.
Fortunately, we have yet to see the scenes from fictional Panem and Gilead, where demonstrators and dissenters are met with ruthless force. We’re not there yet. But make no mistake, Americans cannot allow this action to go unanswered.
There is no place for secret police operating with impunity in the United States, and there is no justification for a president creating his own personal security force. With a potentially contentious election just 3½ months away, who knows to what end he plans on using these men in the near future.
If you’re not terrified yet, you’re not paying attention.