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Trump’s Escalation of Tensions in Portland: Who Does It Benefit?

Summary

Recent weeks have seen growing unrest in Portland, OR in response to the deployment of federal officers from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

This deployment comes as a result of President Trump’s June 26, 2020 Executive Order, which was issued in response to the destruction of several national monuments as part of the protest movement ignited by the police killing of George Floyd.

The protests have continued for nearly two months and have morphed into more localized movements with varied objectives and demands. The mass unemployment, financial instability, and stir craziness of huge portions of the population due to the Covid-19 pandemic has no doubt contributed to the tense standoff. Add the political theatrics guiding decisions in a presidential election year, and the explosive situation begins to make sense.

While deploying the DHS officers was ostensibly intended to protect federal property from destruction by protesters (or “violent anarchists” according to DHS), their presence has  led to an escalation of the protests. Many photos on social media depict the scenes of a brutal police state or foreign military invasion. Outrage was echoed around the country in response to reports of unidentified, heavily armed officers driving up in unmarked vans and abducting citizens off the street without explanation. In response, a “Wall of Moms,” “Wall of Dads,” and most recently a “Wall of Vets” have represented the public opposition to this heavy-handed occupation.

Most of these officers come from a group known as BORTAC (Border Patrol Tactical Unit), the Border Patrol’s equivalent of a SWAT team, which is normally tasked with investigating drug smuggling organizations. According to a leaked internal DHS memo, these officers have not been specifically trained in riot control or mass demonstrations. The memo seems to acknowledge the problems created by this lack of training: “Moving forward, if this type of response is going to be the norm, specialized training and standardized equipment should be deployed to responding agencies.”

A separate DHS internal memo revealed that federal intelligence agencies are using the opportunity to gather information on the protesters.

Analysis

The deployment of federal officers from the DHS into Portland, OR has shifted Trump’s “law and order” rhetoric into an authoritarian reality.

Despite the pretense of protecting federal property, the forceful occupation of the city by DHS troops against the will of the Democratic mayor has only intensified the protests. Tensions have grown as news media report on these events to countless people confined in their home.

No doubt this escalation was not only predictable but inevitable with the deployment. We might look one step deeper into what Trump hopes to accomplish through the escalation.

Given his sagging numbers relative to Joe Biden, nothing weighs more heavily on Trump’s mind at present than his reelection.

When it comes to his handling of the Covid-19, only 32% of Americans approve of Trump’s actions, and he has recently shifted tone on recommendations for wearing a mask after months of defiance. Meanwhile, coverage of the protests is triggering an  increasingly divisive reactions depending on your news source. This situation tends to cause Americans to fight against one another, with Trump’s base going to his defense without considering the contradiction of sending armed federal troops to deal with peaceful protests..

The photos and videos depict a standoff that mesmerizes, overwhelms, and divides, and they also represent a genius way for the president to distract from the failures of Trump and Congress. Trump’s aggressive efforts to send federal troops to partrol American cities is vicious and wrong, but by focusing on this conflict, we are playing directly into his hands.

Resistance Resources:

  • Find Your Representatives allows you to find your representatives, how to contact them, bills they’ve introduced, committees they serve on, and political contributions they’ve received.
  • GovTrack.us tracks the United States Congress and helps Americans participate in their national legislature.
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