Darlene Costner: 1925 – 2020

Portland and Democracy Under Federal Siege

You cannot have missed it these past two weeks – the clashes, between protesters and some shady, heavily armed paramilitary force in the streets of downtown Portland, Oregon.

Black Lives Matter demonstrators have been dragged off in unmarked cars, locked up in what one described as a “nondescript” location and later released without being told why or by whom they were arrested.

One protester was hit in the face with a “munition” - whatever that is – 12 days ago and is still in hospital recovering from facial reconstruction surgery.

Christopher David, a 53-year-old Navy veteran, was beaten and pepper sprayed for trying to ask a question of these “soldiers”. He was left with two broken fingers. Take a look:

Wednesday night, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was tear-gassed by the federal force as he spoke to demonstrators.

Please think hard about what is happening in Portland. Please think about how you would perceive it if it were happening in another country – that is, unidentified people in combat uniforms, wielding batons and guns attacking their fellow citizens.

This is happening in America. Right here. Right now. And President Trump has already sent similar troops to Chicago and Albuquerque this week to shut down what he says are “heinous acts of violence.” He says more will be sent to other cities all of which, he admits, are run by Democrats.

”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.'

“And New Mexico Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich tweeted after being informed the operation was expanding to Albuquerque that federal law enforcement wasn't welcome.

"'Given the mess it created in Portland, I let him know in no uncertain terms that this isn't the kind of 'help' that Albuquerque needs,' he wrote on Twitter.”

These armed men (women too?) can only be called secret police. Their faces are fully covered with gas masks. Their camouflage uniforms are empty of agency identification, badge numbers and personal names. They carry fearsome weapons.

Apparently, these troops are members of several participating federal agencies led by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It is said they were mobilized to Portland to quell attacks on a local federal building.

By the time this force arrived in Portland on 4 July, daily protests in Portland – begun in the wake of the murder of George Floyd - had dwindled to no more than a hundred or so demonstrators but the presence and violence of the federal forces have swelled their numbers again.

Beginning last weekend, the protesters were joined by “The Wall of Moms” - hundreds of local mothers in yellow shirts who stand in front of the protesters each evening to protect them from the federal troops.

Portland officials did not ask for these soldiers and have all but begged the acting DHS chief, Chad Wolf, to withdraw what is, essentially, an occupying army. Mayor Wheeler, Oregon Governor Kate Brown and both Oregon Senators have called for the troops to leave.

The attorney general of Oregon and the ACLU have each sued the federal government on Constitutional grounds.

As part of these attacks on American citizens by federal troops, Trump has taken to calling himself the “law and order president.”

His base loves their law-and-order and Trump is way behind in recent election polls so these street clashes, which appear to be provoked by the federal troops, will supply just kind of footage Trump wants for his campaign videos.

Public demonstrations are protected by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. But if the armed federal troops Trump sends into cities can goad demonstrators and others into damaging federal buildings – graffiti seems to be enough cause for bodily harm to the protesters - he can make a plausible case that troops are defending federal property.

What I see is an insurgency of anonymous federal troops taking over the job of local police without being asked to do so and behaving like storm troopers. It feels to me like Portland is a dress rehearsal for more of the same and maybe worse in bigger cities.

Most of us who read this blog were around when the last law-and-order president ran for re-election in 1968. It was an ugly time in the United States then, it is uglier now (and I'm not even counting the pandemic).

There seems to be no way to stop Trump no matter what laws or norms he ignores. I am deeply worried for the safety of the demonstrators and not incidentally, for our democracy. Something terrible is happening in our country.

Are you following this? What's your take?


Horrific. Hoping the Oregon legislature will be able to pass legislation forbidding this.

Yes, I am following this systematic takeover by our feckless president and his equally feckless attorney general. As one who was (many, many years ago) abducted at gun point, I should think the people taken into custody by Trump's Gestapo would have every reason to believe that they were being subjected to illegal abduction - which, IMO, they are, indeed. I have been sending one short email, each day, to my senator concerning Trump's Gestapo - emphasizing the danger I perceive to our democracy. Of course, my being from a red state, my senator is a Trump minion.

The later news seems to indicate that someone is applying some discipline to the deployment of the federal troops by having them coordinate with local officials in applying troops in helpful ways. I'm hoping that such deployment will include the accountability of identifying badging on troops and vehicles. Identifying badging should be removed only on actual fields of battle.

I should have been clearer in my second paragraph. The use to which the federal troops would be expected to be applied seemed, to me, to be more in the background of activities by local authorities instead of swinging batons in the streets. What I heard was that one thing the feds would be doing is in the order of supplying information and expertise.

Remember the post-war confession by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller? “First they came for the socialist, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.”
Remember ICE picking up supposed migrants off the streets in late 2019 and this year?
Perhaps we didn’t notice the dress rehearsal. Maybe Portland is the off Broadway performance. You know, perfecting the actions before they hit the big time.
I don’t know show business language but I think this show has been in production for a longer time than we want to acknowledge. Like you, Ronni, I am afraid for our country.

My thoughts immediately went back to Ohio and Kent State U, and that photo of that young women kneeling over the body of an anti-war protester killed by a state trooper. The fear and questioning on her face said it all. What the hell is going on in our country? Oh, wait. Let me spell it T.R.U.M.P.

Folks need to wake up. Trump's very own Brown Shirts? In Germany, the Brown Shirts, called The Sturmabteilung - "The SA was integral to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, violently enforcing party norms and attempting to influence elections.."
from Encyclopedia.ushmm.org

Sound familiar anyone?

Considering that one of Trump's latest campaign ads shows a photo of violence in the 'streets', you know he is playing to those witless enough to follow him. BUT, incredibly, the dummies that run his campaign didn't bother to establish the fact that the photo was taken in 2014--in the Ukraine--and was of pro-democracy demonstrators protesting Yanukovych--the leader who days after this photo was taken, was voted out by their parliament and the next day ended up in Moscow--under Putin's protection. The Bulwark (a conservative website that does not pull punches against Trump) has an article describing the background of this photo in detail. Absolutely mind-boggling. You can't make this crap up.

45 is a disgrace to the USA. I am out of words for this man. God help us if he gets a 2nd term. :-(

I am following this, all my sisters live in PDX. One of them is joining the Moms. I'm angry every day now. Storm troopers on our streets after us. Shocked and furious. It is the sickening events of Ohio and the notorious convention in Chicago. tRrumps very own brown shirts have arrived folks, straight from the hands of the president who would be dictator. They landed at Boeing field in Seattle yesterday.

For God's sake folks vote. Call your congress and house representatives.

I really hit a wall yesterday. One Portland woman described in a tweet them taking her to a non disclosed area, read her no rights and pushed her against the elevator wall and touched her breasts and butt. Two hours later she was released back to the streets. Insanity! I go half crazy trying to figure out their end game. Wondered what Putin told him to do yesterday per their phone call. My heart can't break anymore! 💌

My take is exactly your take. He is a threat to our Democracy. He is mentally ill and capable of doing unimaginable things. It astonishes me that Republican senators and governors are so afraid of him. He learned years ago from Roy Cohn how to blackmail and therefore control people. He is doing to them what Putin seems to be doing to him. Hillary had it right...he is Putin’s puppet. He will do anything he can to disqualify the election. I am afraid of him and what he is capable of....which is anything.

The Wall of Moms is being established in many cities (check the webpage). Once one is in Sacramento, I will join. I am 72 but we all need to get off of the bench now.

This is my take: it’s scary – it is American though, but it usually happens in Latin America. It happened in Argentina in the 1970s when they took protesters away, in the 1980s with the kidnapping of citizens and with the paramilitary groups against the people of the Congo. Now in 2020 Trump is copying these tactics to combat his weaknesses at the poll – he is trying to show that he is strong and invincible. It is a diversion to stop the media from speaking about his low chances of re-election. What a despicable man, a sorry specimen for a leader (although I always believed he is fraudulent, just like the governor of Georgia.) Earlier US Governments would decry deploying the military against citizens in foreign countries (that Trump described as “s--- hole” countries) and now this is happening here. Wake up - November will not come soon enough. Let’s take him away and put him in jail, where he belongs with his felonious friends.

Thank you Ronnie and all the rest of the commenters. This country is in dire trouble...fast becoming a Banana Republic with no moral leadership. I am in shock like the rest of you. We saw the 60's come and go. Is there the will to stop this rise of totalitarionism now?

I haven't followed Portland, but it sounds terrible. But there's also been a resurgence of violent crime in NY, Chicago, Atlanta and other cities. The answer, imho, is not to defund the police, but to retrain the police to become members of the community, to deescalate, to stop the violence not contribute to the violence, to keep the peace for everyone not just the white community. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms agrees with me ... or rather, I agree with her.

It's horrible. Other than voting and making "large" contributions to the ACLU, NAACP, NRDC and other such organization who are fighting against this -- and voting -- I don't know what else to do.

I did not say what happened in 1980 above – it was in San Salvador when peaceful demonstrators were attacked by their government National Guards. Déjà vu all over again it seems.

Something doesn't look right . . . When I first saw what was happening in PDX I thought it was a coordinated effort by all state, local, and the Federal(?) police.

Why? It wasn't the televised violent rioting or the few peaceful protesters that caught my attention. It was the offense of an unidentifiable, armed, camouflaged, security force that showed up, surrounded a seemingly peaceful bystander, then kidnapping him off in an unmarked van. Could they have been a foreign operative? Doubtful. But theoretically they could have been. Perhaps, just perhaps in the future they could be.

How is it that the local or state police were no where near this incident? Furthermore where were the local road blocks impeding and helicopters following this mob?

Very curious, indeed!

I am very, Very, VERY worried about the nation's future. 45 is disgrace to the office. As I sit recovering from Knee replacement, I feel impotent. I am reflecting on Kent State and other mis-uses of overwhelming force.

From chapter 6 of "On Tyranny" by Prof. Dr. Timothy Snyder

Be wary of paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching with torches and pictures of a leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the end has come.
Snyder, Timothy. On Tyranny (p. 42). Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.

While the President bears ultimate responsibility for what is happening... "The buck stops here", these actions have the fingerprints of William Barr all over them.

Thank you Ronni for an eloquent depiction of the "clear and present danger" of Trump's latest atrocity - not only for the city of Portland but for our country. Like Bruce, I immediately flashed to the iconic picture of the Kent State student, her face a portrait of anguish and disbelief at the shooting of a fellow student by a National Guardsman. His crime? Protesting the illegal, immoral war in Vietnam.

I know you're not out and about in Portland these days but there is something visceral about this going on in your neighborhood, on familiar streets, and at familiar places.

During the latest protests in New York City, I walked around with my IPHone camera taking pictures. Of boarded buildings on which people had painted graffitis of peace or simply scrawled HOPE. Of buildings in the process of being boarded by multi-racial crews of workers.

I am now going to look up the Wall of Moms in New York and will sign up. As a mom and grandmom of 84, I can't walk that far or stand that long but every bit helps.

I haven’t seen any interviews with any of the people who were apprehended. Has anyone else seen anything?

I live in downtown Portland, about 7 blocks from the “action.”
Each day brings new fear along with the excessive sirens of ambulances and fire trucks along with the overhead noise of helicopters.
I have never been afraid of the protesters but am afraid of the federal troops who are essentially stormtroopers.
The day they came into Portland was when I realized it is all over. Trump has won. I think this will only get worse unless somehow other cities can stop him.
There is now a two-week restraining order on the stormtroopers to stop them from attacking the media but only yesterday a journalist was hit with a rubber bullet.
I don’t know.
One day I feel it is all over in that we have lost our country and then the next I feel a bit of hope when I see even more people join the protest.

In the time of COVID-19 where we are isolated, and in a time of extreme polarity and a Congress unable to act, fear of the White House monster who has refused to say whether he will leave the White House if he loses the election, we are in extreme danger. Faith in the democracy we have loved and been proud of is hard to sustain. Thanks to everyone posting here! I thought I was alone in my sleepless nights.

What happens when the first shot is fired back? I would not put it past Twitler to have his right-wing militia whackadoos pose as protesters and fire upon the camp-clad federal troops, thus starting the ultimate crackdown in the name of Patriotism. He will claim ultimate authority and our country will officially break.

Every day there is a new low. If he he isn’t defeated in November, I honestly think I will go insane.

By the time I got to reading Ronni's incredible take on what is happening to the city
where I seem to remember she was born? [I am trying to remember--], I was greeted by the wealth of all of these wonderful comments. I am full of admiration -- but I am also
noticing that so many of the commenters use words like democracy, or seem still to
take democratic principles as givens -- my response to which is pure cynicism: do we
still believe we live in a democracy? Ever since the awful Prez appeared and took over--
ever since I bought and have read and re-read Timothy Snyder's amazing book on tyranny--
I inevitably think of this monster. And pessimist that I am, I marvel at those of you who still
see us as living in a democracy. The scenes of Portland haunt me. The pacifism that I have
adhered to for so long begins to fade.

I wrote about this same thing just yesterday. I'm furious and outraged by what's happening in Portland. And the scary thing is that with a stroke of his Sharpie pen, Trump can declare a "national emergency" and order his "troops" into any city to quell that "emergency." There are no statutory limitations on what constitutes an emergency. Yes, as he crowed, he has a lot of secret powers that most people have never heard of. The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School attempts to track them. But bottom line, Trump can do just about anything he wants without approval from anyone. Congress can overrule him after the fact, but who knows what can happen in the meantime. Make sure you are registered to vote so we all can overrule him once and for all in November.

As Celia Andrews wrote, call your representative and tell them this is terrible and it needs to stop now. What has happened to the other two arms of our government, Congress and courts? Can't they do something?

Of course, I have been saying this to our elected officials for years now, DO SOMETHING about this horrible, law-breaking man. I guess they tried with the impeachment. What is wrong with our country? (rhetorical question)

I have been following the mayhem in Portland snd I too am scared and outraged. Barr and Trump are fast ruining our country. Seems each day brings a new criminal activity from Trump et al. Also I read that Eric Prince and his mercenaries May be part of the fake soldiers. Trump will stoop to any depths to be re-elected

I fascisti are here. I am stunned, ashamed, and deeply afraid.

I think the most important thing is to not stay quiet. Write your senators and representatives and let them know Trump's actions are over the line. If you are physically able, join the protests. I have a perhaps too idealistic notion that having older people in a crowd of protesters could change how people (especially right wingers) see the protest. We're not terrorists or anarchists. Peacefully protesting is an American right.

I echo Mary Smmes. I am mortified, horrified and terrified.

I am Canadian. Watching what is happening in your country is like watching a major traffic pile-up in slow motion: absolutely horrific. How easily a long-standing democracy can be undermined!!! Trump has a word for what your country is heading for: a s***hole country. A commenter on an earlier post of yours said that living in Canada is like living over a meth lab. Yup.

I still have hope that good people can overcome this, but I sure hope it won't take a world war to do it.

The wannabe Emperor of tRumpistan and his personal paramilitary thugs ("Trugs"?) MUST be resoundingly defeated in November. The greater the margin of defeat, the better chance our country has of remaining a democracy, warts and all.

He can be physically removed from the White House even if he loses in a close election, but it would be much more persuasive if the rejection of him and all he represents is massive and unmistakable. We are not 1930s Germany (yet), but EVERYONE who is concerned for the future of our country must VOTE in November. No one can afford to sit this one out as Trugs are dispatched to "police" cities that have largely deplored tRumpism.

Thanks for the update, Ronnie. The Wall of Moms was backed up by the Dads with Leafblowers who kept the tear gas from hurting the Moms. Go Portland! Jeff Merkeley doing his best to put in federal legislation to stop this illegal invasion. If you can't go down to the demonstrations (I am in a wheelchair and it's not safe.) stay on prayer mode. That helps a lot.

Trump blithely does a lot of stuff that is illegal that doesn't get as much attention as his Law'nOrdure theater amidst the protests in Portland. For example, remember that the Supreme Court a few weeks ago ordered that -- no -- he could not just throw the DACA young people (brought to the country as kids) out? But his minions in the immigration bureaucracy are not carrying out that ruling.

The only remedy is to vote the guy out, which is well on the way to happening. He's wrong about who we are: the Silent Majority wants him gone. So we can't afford to be silent because in a free and fair election, he's history. Also his enablers ...

I feel as though so many people have been doing everything short of setting their hair on fire in response to the craziness of the last 3-1/2 years. And yet it's like the story of the frog sitting on the pot of water heating on the stove. What will it take???

I so agree with you, Ronni. What’s happening in Portland is horrendous. It’s fascism. Yet it continues and is spreading with no end in sight. My biggest worry is that Trump/Barr are practicing for Election Day and will turn loose their secret police in swing states where they want to suppress the votes of people of color. I can’t believe this is happening in America. I am very worried for our democracy and our country.

I’m not surprised — our self-proclaimed genius leader has been doing what he said he’d do to basically change our government. Creating violence so he can declare martial law which threatens our democracy is a real possibility. He’s been following the dictator’s playbook which has also been occurring in governments elsewhere whose leaders have moved toward autocracies including Turkey, Poland, Hungary and more countries. History’s most pronounced example of a dictators takeover in my lifetime took place in Europe in the 1930’s leading into WWII which was necessary to preserve democracy. I would never have thought U.S. citizens would support allowing that to happen here.

Yes. It feels like being in Germany in the 1930s. It's amazing how fast our society largely collapsed.

But for an antidote, Ronni, post Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's magnificent speech on the floor of the House, calling out the representative who insulted her and invoking the dignity of Congress. It will help us all take heart in this dark and menacing time.

SO agree--3 cheers (and much more) for AOC!!

I watch in horror as he continues to take step after step to destroy our democracy, and I am shocked that some 30-40% of Americans still support him, according to polls re: election. No less a leader than Tom Ridge, the person George W Bush tapped to oversee the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, has called this misuse of forces Trump's personal militia. What will it take???

The irony is T's base is anti-federal government. So, I'm not sure how this is going to fly? The Waco Siege and Ruby Ridge led to the Oklahoma City bombing. T is using Portland for political gain, TV exposure, but I think it may turn away his followers. It's a diversion from his poor handling of Covid19.

I have wondered the same thing as Natasha M. He is walking a very fine line from alienating his loyal minions, who won't like federal troops coming in and telling them what to do.
I was living in Buenos Aires in 1976 when the military took over from an incompetent president. That started a brutal regime of oppression. So I'm watching to see where things go here. Democracy seems so fragile.

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