One Step Away from Authoritarianism: Trump Threatens Civil Liberties in Cities with Democratic Leadership

Civil Liberties BELatina Latinx
Federal law enforcement officers, deployed under the Trump administration's new executive order to protect federal monuments and buildings, face off with protesters against racial inequality in Portland, Ore., on Saturday.Nathan Howard / Reuters

Between the impossibility of hiding the cases and deaths from COVID-19 and the rise in polls against him, Donald Trump has proven to be a lousy strategist under pressure.

And his response to the widespread protests in the country is just one example of that.

Since George Floyd’s death triggered a second wave of Black Lives Matter protests against structural racism, some cities have not stopped burningeven if the media insists on ignoring them and changing the subject. 

Portland, Oregon, for example, has had more than 30 days of street protests. However, these protests’ focus seems to have shifted in recent days to the alleged abuse of civil liberties by unidentified federal agents.

The entire country has been able to see videos where uniformed camouflage agents kidnap protesters and reporters alike, bypassing local police forces’ autonomy and, many suspect, the freedom of expression of citizens.

The president has promised to send federal officials to other Democratic-led American cities, according to The Guardian, in a move interpreted by some as “an attempt to play the ‘law and order’ card” to boost his re-election campaign.

On Monday, Trump told reporters at the White House that cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, and Oakland were cities that needed federal agents, again blaming “liberal Democratic” mayors for the situation.

“We’re sending law enforcement,” he said. “We can’t let this happen to the cities.”

The president then proceeded to take advantage of the turmoil in other cities such as Chicago, where more than 63 people were shot, 12 of them fatally, over the weekend.

“This is worse than Afghanistan, by far. This is worse than anything anyone has ever seen,” the president added. “All run by the same liberal Democrats. And you know what? If Biden got in, that would be true for the country. The whole country would go to hell. And we’re not going to let it go to hell.”

However, for the Democratic leadership, it is the president who seems to be losing control.

According to The New York Times, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon said he would introduce legislation to limit federal agents’ role in cities like Portland. “This isn’t just an Oregon crisis,” he said. “It’s an American crisis. We need to stop Trump before this spreads.”

He added, “We won’t let these authoritarian tactics stand.” Senator Merkley was one of the few elected leaders to attempt to visit a migrant detention center to witness the conditions in which detainees were being held. 

Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago and a Democrat — the city’s first Black female major —  told the Associated Press: “I have great concerns about that in particular, given the track record in the city of Portland. I have talked to the mayor of Portland [and] we don’t need federal agents without any insignia taking people off the street and holding them, I think, unlawfully.”

The House committee chairmen Jerry Nadler, Adam Smith, and Bennie Thompson said in a joint statement: “The Trump Administration continues to weaponize federal law enforcement for its own agenda. Like we saw in Lafayette [Square], rather than supporting and protecting the American people, we are witnessing the oppression of peaceful protestors by our own government.”

“Not only do their action[s] undermine civil rights and sow fear and discord across the country but in this case, they sully the reputation of members of our Armed Forces who were not involved.”

And the congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan wrote on Twitter: “They’ll have to arrest me first if they think they’re going to illegally lay their hands on my residents.”

According to The Chicago Tribune, the Trump administration now plans to deploy about 150 Homeland Security Investigations special agents to Chicago in the coming days, many of who may lack training in handling demonstrations and civil unrest.

It seems then that the president’s strategy is an indiscriminate sweep of cities that allow protests against what is not working in the country. Evidence of this is the heterogeneity of the Special Forces that the government intends to deploy.

As the Times continues, the Department of Homeland Security has put about 2,000 officials from Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Coast Guard on standby to be quickly deployed to cities. At least 200 members of “rapid deployment teams” were sent to Washington, D.C., Portland, Seattle and Philadelphia, the agency said this month. Many tactical agents from those teams from Customs and Border Protection and ICE are now in Portland.