Attempts to Impose Federal Control Over Conflicting Authorities

Oregon, July 19, 2020.

A main duty of the President of the United States is to preserve the union and the power of the rulers. A main difficulty he faces at this time is uniting the military bureaucracy and establishing presidential control over the many policing agencies -- federal, state and local. Without this, given the conflicts among and within the military, federal, state and local authorities, the union could splinter, or another violent civil war break out, something the ruling class as a whole is desperate to avoid. The current use of federal forces in major cities is part of this effort to impose greater presidential control. It is done in the name of law and order and democracy against "mob rule" and "mob violence."

Trump previously threatened to use the military in cities where protests persist, something opposed even by his own Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and numerous other military forces. Now he is attempting to use the paramilitary forces of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC), along with the Justice Department's FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to impose federal control. Local Portland police and those elsewhere have not asked for assistance and are not being consulted. As officials have also pointed out, local police have no authority to stop or give orders to federal forces. Trump has so far targeted Albuquerque, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Oakland for federal deployments.

The intervention by federal forces in Portland was opposed by Mayor Wheeler, as well as Governor Kate Brown and both Senators and Representatives from Oregon. Wheeler, along with the mayors of Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington, DC, and Kansas City, Missouri, sent a letter to DHS head Chad Wolf and U.S. Attorney General William Barr on July 20, opposing the use of federal forces. "We write to express our deep concern and objection to the deployment of federal forces in our cities, as those forces are conducting law enforcement activities without coordination or authorization of local law enforcement officials... Unilaterally deploying these paramilitary-type forces into our cities is wholly inconsistent with our system of democracy and our most basic values," the mayors wrote.

Portland, Oregon

More mayors have since signed on, including those from Los Angeles, San Jose, Oakland, Tucson, Denver and Philadelphia. As well, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has said that federal forces who arrest protesters in Philadelphia will be arrested. "Anyone, including federal law enforcement, who unlawfully assaults and kidnaps people will face criminal charges from my office," Krasner said. Referencing the fight against fascism in WWII, Krasner emphasized that his office "will not make excuses for crimes committed by law enforcement that demean the democratic freedoms so many Americans have fought and died to preserve."

Philadelphia is one of the cities named by Trump for federal forces, along with Albuquerque, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Baltimore, New York City and Oakland.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley said, "Federal forces shot an unarmed protester in the face. These shadowy forces have been escalating, not preventing, violence." In the wake of that July 11 shooting, Senator Ron Wyden said, "Trump and Homeland Security must now answer why federal officers are acting like an occupying army." Like Mayor Wheeler, they have called for federal forces to leave Portland, as did Oregon Governor Kate Brown, saying they were "a blatant abuse of power by the federal government."

It is notable that these same people have not rejected the violence and use of tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters by local Portland police -- which was at such a level that a federal judge banned them. Their concern, like those of mayors and governors elsewhere, is not the rights of the people and their demands for equality and change, but rather who exercises the monopoly over the use of force. The President is acting to have the monopoly on the use of force dictated by the Office of the President, with or without the consent of local and state forces.

The "live exercise" being conducted also affords the possibility for direct relations between federal and local policing agencies, bypassing elected officials, as is done abroad between the Pentagon and foreign military forces. In Portland, dictate is used, rather than negotiations with local political and police authorities. In Chicago, a different approach has been taken -- that of negotiating with both the mayor and local police forces. This is no doubt in part because police officials specifically asked Trump to intervene. As well, Chicago is a far larger city with powerful police forces. The demonstrations are also far larger as is the population.

Resistance Shows Path Forward for People's Empowerment

DHS head Chad Wolf has made clear federal forces will step up their illegal actions and suppression of resistance. In attempts to justify more federal intervention he repeatedly brands demonstrations as a "violent mob," and participants as "violent criminals" and "lawless anarchists." On July 16 he said, "The city of Portland has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city. [...] A federal courthouse is a symbol of justice -- to attack it is to attack America."

In this manner Wolf is echoing Trump's efforts to usurp the right to declare who is and who is not "American." Trump's recent speeches, the executive order making defacing statues a felony, which further consolidated the use of federal forces in the cities, all speak to this effort to criminalize people who are defending rights and to justify broader and more violent federal actions.

Facing the upsurge in resistance in Portland, Trump said July 20, "We're going to have more federal law enforcement -- that, I can tell you. In Portland, they've done a fantastic job... They grab them; a lot of people in jail. They're leaders. These are anarchists. These are not protesters. People say 'protesters'; these people are anarchists. These are people that hate our country."

On July 21 in a Fox News interview Wolf said, "Because we don't have that local support, that local law enforcement support, we are having to go out and proactively arrest individuals." Based on existing experience, this means that with no probable cause and acting against people who have committed no crime whatsoever, detentions and arrests will be made of anyone who is said to be "attacking America." As well, federal forces are detaining, searching and interrogating people, then releasing them with no record of the detention, making any accountability even more difficult as the federal officials claim the detention never happened.

Trump, Wolf and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan are all attempting to criminalize resistance while also imposing their sole authority over how and when to use force. Millions of demonstrators are clearly not part of "their America." Those standing with the demonstrators and supporting their demands -- the large majority of people -- are not either. All are to be subject to violence and preemptive attacks.

The claims by the various local and state politicians that Trump's actions are unconstitutional or "inconsistent with our system of democracy," muddy the waters because the Constitution they refer to is no longer capable of exercising authority in the country. As a consequence of the neo-liberal anti-social offensive's inherent restructuring of the state whose functions have been usurped by narrow private interests, the decision-making power has largely been concentrated in the Office of the President. Congress is dysfunctional and the courts largely reinforce the power of the executive even though some rulings attempt to uphold the division of powers between federal and state forces in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Constitution is not stopping the police powers of the President, nor presidential use of federal forces against the people.

Indeed, the notion that the Constitution can be relied on does not temper the sharpening conflicts between federal, state and local authorities, as exemplified in Portland. As the presidential election draws nearer, the conditions for open civil war among the ruling factions vying for power are ever-present. Trump is trying to get an upper hand by establishing DHS and Justice Department forces loyal to himself should the military split or other policing agencies refuse his orders.

The valiant resistance in Portland and other cities and towns is providing a way forward by rejecting the violence of all the policing agencies, the all-round militarization of life and sticking to the principle that change must favour the people. Those currently governing at all levels are seen as unfit to govern. Ample evidence of this is how they are handling not only the police killings and government racism but also the COVID-19 pandemic. With their organized resistance the people's forces are empowering themselves as the Wall of Moms shows. They are not being drawn into efforts to get them to side for or against the various representatives of the rich. They are persisting in accomplishing their aims to achieve justice, equality, security and peace.

This article was published in

Volume 50 Number 27 - July 25, 2020

Article Link:
Attempts to Impose Federal Control Over Conflicting Authorities - Kathleen Chandler


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