President Trump has created a paramilitary “protection squadron” to protect America. He can’t send the military into American cities to put down all the George Floyd Black Lives Matter protests, which he says have gotten out of control and devolved into arson and looting and anarchy. He’s not allowed to unleash the military on American citizens. He cannot call in airstrikes and carpet-bomb Harlem or the black neighborhoods of Chicago or Portland, turning them into no more than smoking rubble. So this has to be a paramilitary operation, one step removed from the military. This has to be a “law enforcement” operation – no artillery – no tanks – no snipers.
And that is what he announced:
President Donald Trump said Wednesday he will “surge” federal law enforcement officers to Chicago and other American cities, despite resistance from local leaders, as he adopts a hardline “law and order” mantle ahead of November’s election.
In making the move, Trump is wading further into an effort to portray Democrats as weak on crime and unable to protect the citizens of places where they are in charge. He has ordered federal agents to tamp down on protests in Portland, Oregon, leading to chaotic tableaux and reports of unmarked vehicles snatching people off the streets.
And he has warned he may order federal officers into other states and cities he deems insufficiently policed, even if governors and mayors in those places don’t ask for help.
That’s almost as good as a military operation. He will take back these cites from their wimpy and useless Democratic Party mayors. He will liberate these cities, and liberate one in particular:
His attention in recent days has focused on Chicago, whose Democratic mayor said Tuesday she would not allow “Donald Trump’s troops” into her city. Before he became president, Trump once railed against his predecessor for high crime rates in Chicago, but he now blames local officials for the scourge.
Using ominous rhetoric and dark language to describe cities run by Democrats as rife with crime and violence, Trump suggested Wednesday he had little option but to take steps those leaders haven’t to save innocent lives.
“No mother should ever have to cradle her dead child in her arms simply because politicians refused to do what is necessary to secure their neighborhood and to secure their city,” he said during a mid-afternoon event in the East Room.
Yes, it’s those damned Democrats, sort of:
Trump’s campaign has increasingly turned to dark themes of violence and chaos as it seeks to paint his Democratic rival Joe Biden as anti-police. Since protests spread throughout the country following the murder of George Floyd, Trump has worked to cultivate a tough-on-crime message that includes the federal law enforcement efforts now underway.
Speaking at the same event as Trump, Attorney General Bill Barr criticized what he called “extreme reactions that have demonized police” in the wake of Floyd’s killing, which he blamed for “a significant increase in violent crime in many cities.”
Barr seemed to be saying that every sensible person knows the police do no wrong, really, and those who think they do are creating more and more anarchy by the moment, but it’s hard to tell who is creating the anarchy here:
When it was announced, the Justice Department described the initiative as “a sustained, systematic and coordinated law enforcement initiative across all federal law enforcement agencies working in conjunction with state and local law enforcement officials to fight the sudden surge of violent crime.”
The program doesn’t require the explicit invitation from local leaders, and many have resisted having federal officers patrolling their streets.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, tweeted on Tuesday evening: “Under no circumstances will I allow Donald Trump’s troops to come to Chicago and terrorize our residents.”
Earlier in the day, she said she would “welcome actual partnership, but we do not welcome dictatorship.”
But she may have no choice in the matter. Still, something seems odd here:
After mostly peaceful protests spread decrying Floyd’s death and larger issues of systemic racism, Trump sought to tamp down on occasional flare-ups of violence and to claim his Democratic rival is weak on crime.
His attacks, however, have relied on false talking points, including that Biden supports defunding police. In fact, Biden has said he supports increasing funds for community policing efforts.
But that hasn’t stopped Trump’s campaign from releasing fear-mongering ads that suggest 911 calls would go unanswered if Biden is elected president, including one this week that depicted an elderly woman being attacked in her home.
Facebook ads in a similar vein depicted protesters attacking police officers, casting the election choice as “public safety vs. chaos and violence.”
Yet the photo of the attack was not from recent events in the United States; its caption on Wikicommons indicated it was taken in 2014 during pro-Democracy protests in Kiev, Ukraine.
Oops. If Trump thinks he has a new and improved paramilitary Waffen-SS to take care of those who get in his way, and his own Himmler to run it, he’s very bad at this sort of thing. Matt Shuham covers the push-back:
Philadelphia’s district attorney on Wednesday decried President Donald Trump’s threats to send federal agents into his city, saying that Trump’s “fluffy” rhetoric about occupying cities “comes out of the fascist playbook.”
Philadelphia is one of a number of cities on which Trump has threatened to sic federal agents, arguing that local Democratic leaders aren’t responding to protesters forcefully enough. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s response is part of a wave of local officials telling Trump’s flashy federal force to, essentially, keep out.
Enough is enough:
In Portland, local officials have urged federal agents to leave after on-the-ground footage showed them teargassing and detaining non-violent demonstrators while wearing camouflage fatigues with little identifying information. (At a press conference Tuesday night, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said of Portland authorities, “If you did your job from a local perspective, we wouldn’t be there.”)
In a lawsuit Friday, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said “state law enforcement officers are not being consulted or coordinated with on these federal detentions” – leading to local police potentially wasting time on kidnapping calls “when federal agents snatch people walking through downtown Portland without explanation or identification.”
Krasner raised similar concerns.
“It is not okay when there is no probable cause to jump out of a rental van and just requisition people off the street,” Krasner told Bloomberg. “That looks like a dictatorship. That looks like a kidnapping. That looks like a crime.”
He said he was ready to make arrests of these federal thugs. Go ahead, make his day. He stands on the other side of things:
Krasner on Wednesday repeatedly referred to the federal deployment in Portland – and Trump’s threat to take the show national – as a political stunt.
“We’re dealing with a shiny object that the president is waving around to distract from his outrageous failures in many other areas,” he said, “and to try to use his usual tactics of neo-fascist division, hate, and racism to improve his almost deceased campaign.”
“This is fluff,” he added separately. “This is politics. This has nothing to do with actual law enforcement. It is a diversion of tax funds to try to bolster a campaign that is close to defunct.”
The D.A. said Monday that he wouldn’t hesitate to charge “anyone, including federal law enforcement, who unlawfully assaults and kidnaps people.”
That’s his job, and there was this too:
Tom Ridge, who was elected twice as Pennsylvania’s Republican governor and went on to be the first secretary of Homeland Security in 2003, struck a similar tone the following day.
DHS, Ridge told SiriusXM’s Michael Smerconish, “was not established to be the president’s personal militia.”
“It’d be a cold day in hell before I would consent to a unilateral, uninvited intervention in one of my cities.”
And everyone knows what this is about:
Krasner also highlighted the racial dynamics at play: Trump has repeatedly vilified the Black and Latino leadership of major cities.
“He has an agenda,” the D.A. said. “It is a strictly political, racist, divisive, fear-based fictional agenda. All of this stuff comes out of the fascist playbook. All this stuff comes out of the white supremacist playbook. “
Of course it does, and the Washington Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker reviews the problem with all this:
The administration’s moves now to “dominate” the streets, as Trump characterized his vision, risks backlash in both parties.
“If there is something that is perceived as too strong and bordering on totalitarianism, that’s not right, and I don’t think people in the heartland want government crackdowns, if you want to call it that, going too far,” said Scott Frostman, the Republican chairman in Sauk County, Wis., a political bellwether an hour from Madison.
That’s the Republican chairman in Sauk County, not some liberal snowflake, but the snowflakes spoke up too:
Democratic governors and other officials vowed to pursue litigation to halt what they condemned as a violation of constitutional rights and a slide into authoritarianism.
“Portland will not be a proving ground for fascism,” said Chloe Eudaly, a city commissioner, adding in an interview that “the arrival of federal forces has done nothing but escalate tensions.”
Graffiti has been scrawled on the federal courthouse and on a nearby county jail, Eudaly said. There have been scattered acts of property destruction and vandalism visited on nearby properties, she added. But Portland, she said, has not been seized by violence, a point brought home by residents who undertook a social media campaign to depict everyday life unfolding in the riverside city.
The justification offered by the Trump administration represents “an excuse rather than a real reason for these deployments,” said Margo Schlanger, a law professor at the University of Michigan who served as an officer for civil rights and civil liberties at the Department of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama. “If the courts don’t put it down, we should be very worried,” she said, condemning in particular accounts of protesters being detained without justification by unidentified tactical teams.
But those guys are terrified! Think about these poor martyrs:
Any identification beyond an “insignia indicating that they’re law enforcement” would put agents at risk, maintained White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who began her Tuesday briefing warning of “violence, chaos and anarchy” in Portland.
Those savages want to kill them and then kill their families!
“Typically conservatives favor less government intervention,” said Frostman, the Republican chairman in Sauk County. “So the idea that the federal government is coming into cities – does that make it more challenging for us as a more conservative group? Is there going to be a threat to shut me down, or my ability to speak or to gather?”
He said voters in the county fear unrest and anarchy, estimating that urban violence was a more deeply felt concern than a porous border with Mexico. But they also hold fast to bedrock principles of free speech and assembly, he said, and are “cognizant about the level of control you impose.”
This a mess, which may be what Trump wants:
The confusion caused by incomplete accounts, jumbled by outright falsehoods, serves the president’s agenda, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of communication at University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication.
“The framing of this is dramatically different news channel to news channel, and this is an instance in which the visuals are difficult to understand because you’re seeing people in what look to be a kind of military uniform, and it’s unfolding at night,” said Jamieson, a co-author of a recent peer-reviewed study finding that Americans who rely on conservative outlets, such as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, were more likely to put stock in conspiracy theories about the coronavirus.
Even as conservative pundits raise alarm about turmoil in Portland, she said, they have not yet produced imagery to support their warnings. Still, the persistent verbal reinforcement “makes you think you are seeing a reality when in fact what you’re seeing is selected distortion.”
Trump wins this one, or maybe not:
Sometimes, however, the visual evidence cuts in the exact opposite direction.
A Fox “alert” this week about the “54th straight night” of Portland protests led with a clip of a crowd singing the gospel that became an anthem of the civil rights movement, “We Shall Overcome.”
The segment producers at Fox News might have decided those words and that song would strike terror in the hearts of their viewers, just like old times, and help Trump now, but those words and that song haven’t caused any panic since 1963 or so, and back then in the South and nowhere else, back in the distant past. Not all of Fox News’ audience lives there.
But something else is odd here. Aaron Blake notes this:
What’s problematic here – and perhaps even illegal – is the man calling the shots. This controversial effort is being spearheaded not by a duly confirmed DHS secretary, but by acting secretary Chad Wolf, whose long-running service in that role runs afoul of the law, according to experts.
Trump has made use of acting Cabinet officials in ways with no apparent precedent. As I wrote back in February, by that point he had had acting officials in Cabinet-level jobs for more than 2,700 combined days across 22 jobs – about 1 out of every 9 total days. That compared to about 1 out of every 29 for President Barack Obama. (“I like ‘acting’ because I can move so quickly,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation” last year, adding, “It gives me more flexibility.”)
And Trump exploited acting officials at DHS like nowhere else. The agency has been run by an acting secretary – first Kevin McAleenan and now Wolf – for the past 469 days. That’s equal to more than 15 months and nearly 37 percent of his entire presidency. In that entire time, Trump has failed to even nominate a permanent DHS secretary for the Senate’s consideration.
In other words, the man running this controversial effort has not been signed off on for his current role…
Chad Wolf is no more than Trump’s personal funky? That may be a problem:
There is some reason to believe this could actually impact any legal cases resulting from the use of DHS personnel in cities such as Portland.
In March, for instance, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., suspended asylum policies put forward by acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Ken Cuccinelli, ruling that his appointment had violated the applicable law. Cuccinelli has also served effectively as Wolf’s top deputy despite never being confirmed. The case is on appeal in the D.C. Circuit.
Perhaps more important is a 2017 Supreme Court decision. In that decision, the court affirmed a lower court’s decision voiding an action taken by Lafe Solomon, who served as acting general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, because he was found to be illegally serving in that role.
Something is quite wrong here, but maybe it’s structural. Fred Kaplan explains that:
Many lessons and warnings can be drawn from President Trump’s dispatch of heavily armed federal agents to put down protesters in Portland, Oregon, but one of them is that it’s time to bust up the Department of Homeland Security.
So, the Department of Homeland Security itself is the actual problem:
The DHS was a sham from the get-go. It was the brainchild of Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who proposed the new department in late 2001, just after the 9/11 attacks, as a way of showing that the Republicans in the White House weren’t the only ones trying to tackle terrorism. President George W. Bush opposed the idea, seeing it as burdening the government with another bureaucratic layer. But then, the 9/11 Commission hearings revealed that al-Qaida succeeded in toppling the World Trade Center in part because the FBI, CIA, and other agencies hadn’t shared intelligence about the hijackers’ movements prior to the attack. Coordination and consolidation were suddenly seen as nostrums to our problems.
So, under pressure, in late 2002, Bush signed Lieberman’s idea into law. DHS wound up subsuming 22 agencies from eight federal departments – with a combined budget of $40 billion and a payroll of 183,000 employees – into one hydra-headed behemoth.
But this particular behemoth was crippled from the start:
Ironically, the agencies that had mishandled intelligence before 9/11 were not included in this roundup. The CIA and FBI were powerful enough to retain their independence, though they did strengthen or create counterterrorism bureaus and tighten lines of communication. Instead, the components of DHS – FEMA, the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, various immigration and customs bureaus, and a Pentagon agency devoted to cybersecurity, among others – had been performing distinct functions. Piling them into one entity didn’t make fighting terrorism, or performing any other mission, more efficient.
In fact, it made the government less efficient. For instance, before the consolidation, the head of FEMA had been a Cabinet-level official – a member of the National Security Council who attended interagency meetings and enjoyed direct access to the president. Now this official is an undersecretary of DHS. The secretary of DHS can closely follow only a few of the dozen or so issues the department covers. If emergency management is one of the top priorities, then that particularly undersecretary at least has indirect access to the top; if it isn’t, the mission goes largely ignored. This may have been one reason the Bush administration responded so sluggishly to the great natural disaster of 2005, Hurricane Katrina.
And now it’s this:
Before DHS, the jobs of U.S. Customs and Border Protection – which is supplying most of the men brandishing heavy arms and firing tear gas at the protesters in Portland – were handled by two separate agencies: U.S. Customs Service and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services. These were independent, fairly professional agencies, with clear authority over limited jurisdictions.
Now, fused into Customs and Border Protection and shunted into DHS, it’s a large law enforcement agency with a mandate as narrow or as broad as the secretary of homeland security decides. And since the current secretary – Chad Wolf – is an acting secretary, whose nomination has not been submitted to the Senate and who therefore has no accountability to Congress or the public, the CBP’s armed agents can behave as Trump’s goon squad.
But it didn’t have to be this way:
Trump would have had a hard time doing this if DHS didn’t exist. The head of CBP – or the heads of customs and INS, if they were still independent agencies – would not have been so wide open to political pressure from the White House and might have resisted such pressure on the grounds that quelling disorder in American cities (if there is disorder) doesn’t fall within those agencies’ purview.
There are already federal bodies, outside the DHS, that are mandated and trained to help control urban crime, if called upon to do so. The FBI can step in to investigate or stop violations of federal law. The Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives can stop the illegal sale of guns. But that’s not what Trump is doing in Portland. He says he has unleashed the DHS troops to stop protesters from vandalizing federal buildings and statues – acts that hardly justify a quasi-military response in any case.
Some of Trump’s men may finally see that:
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has expressed worries about this response. “There are some law enforcement that wear uniforms that make them appear military,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said on Tuesday. “The secretary has expressed a concern of this, within the administration, that we want a system where people can tell the difference.”
Esper has been dissociating himself from some of Trump’s actions ever since protests began, two months ago, over the police killing of George Floyd. He ordered active duty armed forces, who had been deployed near Washington, to return to their home bases. More recently, he banned the display of Confederate flags from U.S. military facilities and has said he’d be open to renaming the 10 Army bases currently named after Confederate generals – a now-popular demand that Trump ardently opposes. (Trump has said he would veto this year’s defense authorization bill if it orders a renaming. The House has passed a bill that does that; the Senate bill, to be voted on soon, contains a similar measure.)
A more explicit establishment critique of Trump’s actions in Portland comes from Tom Ridge, former Republican governor of Pennsylvania and – more pertinent – Bush’s first secretary of homeland security. In a radio interview on Tuesday, Ridge said that DHS “was established to protect America from the ever-present threat of global terrorism. It was not established to be the president’s personal militia.”
Now almost everyone sees what’s happening, and others remember this:
The Schutzstaffel (SS, literally “Protection Squadron”) was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party (NSDAP) in Nazi Germany, and later throughout German-occupied Europe during World War II. It began with a small guard unit known as the Saal-Schutz (“Hall Security”) made up of NSDAP volunteers to provide security for party meetings in Munich. In 1925, Heinrich Himmler joined the unit, which had by then been reformed and given its final name. Under his direction (1929–1945) it grew from a small paramilitary formation during the Weimar Republic to one of the most powerful organizations in Nazi Germany. From 1929 until the regime’s collapse in 1945, the SS was the foremost agency of security, surveillance, and terror within Germany and German-occupied Europe…
After Nazi Germany’s defeat, the SS and the NSDAP were judged by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg to be criminal organizations. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the highest-ranking surviving SS main department chief, was found guilty of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials and hanged in 1946.
Chad Wolf should worry. No, everyone should worry. Protection squadrons protect no one.