Watching events unfold in Portland for the past few weeks has been surreal. Protesters in bike helmets and goggles, carrying umbrellas and homemade shields, battle it out nightly with federal forces in full camouflage riot gear, sweeping the streets with batons, crowd-control ammunition, and copious amounts of tear gas and pepper spray.
Federal agents arrived in Portland after President Trump signed an executive order mandating protection of federal monuments and buildings. Most protests have revolved around the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse downtown.
During two months of protests federal forces have
- Snatched people off the street and taken them away in unmarked vans.
- Pepper sprayed a Navy veteran and broke his hand.
- Shot protesters with crowd-control munitions, causing a serious brain injury.
- Tear gassed Mayor Ted Wheeler.
While some of the federal forces are from agencies such as the U.S. Marshals Service, Customs and Border Protection and the Federal Protective Service, there’s also evidence that many are private contractors – in effect, mercenary soldiers paid by our tax dollars to wage war on our civilian population.
There is such a strong resemblance to the stormtroopers of Star Wars that protesters are blasting the Imperial March over loudspeakers as federal forces deploy tear gas, pepper spray, and flash bangs.
It is terrifying enough that all this is happening on American soil – we are used to seeing things like this in other countries, such as the 2014 Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong to protest democracy crackdowns by China.
But even worse: It’s coming to Wisconsin, just in time for the Democratic National Convention.
Last week President Trump announced that federal forces would be expanded to several more cities “run by liberal Democrats,” including Chicago, Albuquerque, Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee.
This time, federal agents from the U.S. Marshals, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are being sent under the auspices of Operation Legend, a Justice Department initiative in which the feds are supposed to help local law enforcement fight a spike in violent crime.
In reality, no one in Wisconsin wants them. Gov. Tony Evers wrote a letter to Trump stating, “this type of unilateral intervention has not been requested … and is not welcome in Wisconsin.” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said, “Federal agents are not welcome here.” Even the Milwaukee Police Department said it “respectfully declines the deployment of federal agents.”
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm told members of the Milwaukee Common Council on Monday that he will prosecute federal agents who violate the law.
“Kidnapping, false imprisonment, unlawful assault — those are simply crimes,” Chisholm said. “Those are crimes no matter who commits them, whether it’s a federal agent or a citizen. You can’t do that, not in the United States, and it won’t be tolerated here.”
It makes no sense to deploy federal forces to Milwaukee for this year’s Democratic National Convention, a highly scaled-down event with only a few hundred participants, not the thousands that normally attend. State delegates were told they should stay home and would not be credentialed or allowed into the meeting site if they show up in Milwaukee.
The wishes of local leaders are unlikely to sway the Trump administration, however. Political leaders in Portland and Oregon didn’t want federal forces there either. The administration’s response?
“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,” said Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Secretary, in an interview on Fox News.
We don’t know why Trump is doing this. It could be as an election year ploy to shore up his “law and order” base. It could be a way to divert attention from the ever worsening coronavirus pandemic. It could be as an act of political revenge, or simply to push presidential powers to the breaking point.
But when Trump’s stormtroopers arrive, we call on local and state officials to stand by their pledges not to allow fascism to take root in Milwaukee. This time it’s not just our state’s democracy at risk. It’s whatever pieces of democracy we have left from the local level on up.
Image credit: Nathan Howard / Getty Images