Of the many things to keep one awake at night, there is the possibility that Trump would refuse an orderly transfer of power should he lose the election. That election is then and there - 100 days or so. Another grim specter is here and now - Trump’s establishment of his personal, private army. That’s not even a secret police. There is nothing secret about it. There are paramilitary booted, armed, and camo’d troops on the streets of Portland Oregon stirring up sh!t last night and tonight and next night. More such activity is planned for Chicago, Kansas City, and Albuquerque. Coming soon to a city near you …
How did we come to this? This morning Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American, July 23, tells the story. (Following is the last part of her post.)
… Trump’s campaign is trying to rally voters with the idea that American cities run by Democrats are seething with violence. And to create that violence, the administration is sending in law enforcement officers that belong to departments within the executive branch of the government.
Trump included the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, in his photo-op on June 1, after officers cleared peaceful protesters out of Washington D.C.’s Lafayette Square with tear gas and flash-bangs. But military officers and defense officials past and present pushed back strongly against the attempt to politicize the military, and made it clear they would not permit soldiers to be used in ways they considered unconstitutional.
So Trump is turning the officers of the executive branch into the president’s private army.
On June 26, Trump issued an “Executive Order on Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence.” That is the document supporting the deployment of officers from what appears to be Custom and Border Protection, wearing military uniforms, in Portland, Oregon. Their original mission was to defend the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse, which had sustained vandalism and thrown fireworks.
The Executive Order blames the protests in Portland on “rioters, arsonists, and left-wing extremists who… have explicitly identified themselves with ideologies — such as Marxism — that call for the destruction of the United States system of government.” It says that those calling out racial bias in America are seeking “to advance a fringe ideology that paints the United States of America as fundamentally unjust and have sought to impose that ideology on Americans through violence and mob intimidation.” It claims: “These radicals shamelessly attack the legitimacy of our institutions and the very rule of law itself.”
The administration justifies the operations in Chicago and Albuquerque differently. On July 8, Attorney General William Barr announced a Department of Justice initiative called “Operation Legend,” named for a four-year-old victim of gun violence. Operation Legend began in Kansas City, Missouri, “to fight the sudden surge of violent crime.” Under the initiative, Barr is deploying federal agents from the FBI, U.S. Marshal Service, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) to “surge resources” first to Kansas City, and now to Chicago and Albuquerque. The DOJ also promised to move personnel to Kansas City—and now, presumably to the other cities— “to handle an anticipated increase in prosecutions.”
All the affected cities are run by Democratic mayors.
The Trump administration is hammering again and again on the idea that Democrats will bring chaos and violence to American streets. To illustrate that argument, it is instigating violent encounters. In Portland, officials said that the protests were calming down before the new federal force moved in. They asked for the officers to be removed, but Trump refused. His acting director of the Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, says: “I don’t need invitations by the state, state mayors, or state governors to do our job. We’re going to do that, whether they like us there or not.”
(Wolf is not Senate-confirmed, and there is question about whether or not he’s even legally in his job, since he has now been 251 days in a post that can only have an “acting” director for 210. With no experience in intelligence or security, it is unlikely the former lobbyist could make it through the Senate, but Trump likes his loyalty.)
Today, Tom Ridge, the country’s first Director of Homeland Security, who served under President George W. Bush, warned that the department “was not established to be the President’s personal militia.” “It would be a cold day in hell before I would give consent to a unilateral, uninvited intervention into one of my cities,” he said.
What is really at stake is the delegitimizing of Democrats altogether before the 2020 election. Today Jenna Ellis, senior legal adviser to the Trump campaign and one of Trump’s personal lawyers tweeted: “No Democrat should EVER AGAIN be elected in the United States in any capacity. The government’s constitutional obligation is to preserve and protect OUR rights, not to preserve and protect their own power. They are willing to sacrifice America and our freedom and liberty. NO!!!”
The Trump campaign has released an ad suggesting that the choice in 2020 is between “PUBLIC SAFETY” and “CHAOS AND VIOLENCE.” But observers quickly noted that the image of street violence in the ad was not from America, it was from Ukraine in 2014.
And the image was not of respectable police officers defending the rule of law. It was the opposite. It was a picture taken when democratic protesters were trying to oust corrupt oligarch Viktor Yanukovych from the Ukraine presidency. Yanukovych was an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and fled to Russia when he was thrown out of office in Ukraine. Yanukovych was in power thanks to the efforts of an American adviser: Paul Manafort, the same man who took over Trump’s ailing campaign in June 2016.
So to illustrate “chaos and violence,” the Trump campaign used an image of a corrupt Ukrainian oligarch’s specialized federal police wrestling a pro-democracy protester to the ground. And Donald Trump and that oligarch won power thanks to the same advisor.
Honestly, it’s hard to see the use of the image as a mistake.