The Feds have tactical teams on the ground. They are ostensibly in Oregon to protect statues and federal buildings. It is part of the enforcement of the Executive Order the president signed. What they are doing should be raising multiple alarms, since it is yet one more step towards an authoritarian state. This is part of the absolute executive power (only for Republicans) President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr fantasize about. This is a descent into the kind of authoritarian excesses familiar to those who did not grow up in the United States, those familiar with dirty wars.
This administration has been moving in this direction for some time. Moreover, the president’s poll numbers are crashing and his base is cratering. Some of this may be an effort to signal to a base that is starting to leave him due to COVID. It is also part of the law and order campaign he promised, even though this is not 1968. Yes, his approval broke the 40 hard basement in Gallup. It is increasingly clear that the election is not just competitive, but likely Donald Trump will lose. The president already signaled he will not accept the result either. For the moment, the president is doing all he can to shore up support in a way that shows strength and where he does not need to admit any mistakes. Trump cannot admit mistakes.
After he signed his executive order to protect statues, in the middle of a pandemic where 140,000 Americans have already died, Barr ordered the deployment of little green men. These officers work for the Department of Homeland security and wear military uniforms, which makes them look exactly like federal military troops. In Oregon, they not only used force in ways the local police cannot, but now have started to pick up people in the streets. This is exactly what the right-wing paramilitaries we trained to do all over Latin America, and there is zero respect for constitutional rights in these tactics. It will lead to people disappearing if this is not confronted right now.
According to the New York Times:
One Portland demonstrator, Mark Pettibone, 29, said he had been part of the protests before four people in camouflage jumped out of an unmarked van around 2 a.m. Wednesday. They had no obvious markings or identification, he said, and he had no idea who they were.
“One of the officers said, ‘It’s OK, it’s OK,’ and just grabbed me and threw me into the van,” Mr. Pettibone said. “Another officer pulled my beanie down so I couldn’t see.”
Mr. Pettibone said that he was terrified — protesters in the city have in the past clashed with far-right militia groups also wearing camouflage and tactical gear — and that at no point was he told why he was arrested or detained, or what agency the officers were with.
He said he was held for about two hours before being released.
This account should chill you. What we are seeing is the beginning of right-wing paramilitaries, like we saw in places like Guatemala and El Salvador during the 1980s. Remember, people disappeared in Chile and Argentina as well, and some of that was done under our guidance, both the CIA and the School of the Americas. Most Americans did not care much about that, because it was over there. But the story that Pettibone told the New York Times is extremely familiar to anybody who has ever studied death squads in Latin America and the Guerra Sucias, dirty wars.
Any Guerra Sucia or dirty war always involved paramilitary forces or police forces that were controlled by right-wing elements allied with the state or part of the state. They used kidnapping (what ostensibly happened in Portland since he was released), forced disappearances, and torture. They all included the violation of basic constitutional rights within the legal system of the countries involved. These tactics are considered crimes against humanity.
This is exactly what we saw in Portland and it may very well be the early tests of the deployment of these right-wing paramilitaries. There is pushback though. Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Oregon Attorney General are suing to get these practices to stop. But more needs to happen.
AG Barr said that they were going to do this in other places, and they are. We have now a similar case in Columbus OH, with the same exact tactics. The fact that police officers, presumably attached to different agencies within the Department of Homeland Security, are doing this is problematic. They took an oath to the Constitution but they are ok with violating it and obeying orders.
However, it points to a small fact. The army may not do this (yet) because they take their oath to the Constitution seriously. Federal enforcement officers have no issue in violating the rights of their fellow Americans to follow an executive order that may be of dubious authority. As always, we will hash this in the courts, but Dirty Wars do not care about the legal process. And once you start down that road, it is a very dark place where we are heading.
Incidentally, before this executive order was signed, San Diego Police did something similar, which led to an internal affairs investigation. Why? There are a series of civil rights violations when anybody is arrested this way.