The militarization and overreach of federal agencies has reached an alarming level and affected both the left and right of the political spectrum.
Nothing today brings that into greater clarity than the tactics used in our very own cities. Regardless of your politics, this should never have become the new normal.
We live in troubling enough times with external threats brazenly challenging our armed forces. The last thing we need are threats both foreign AND domestic.
Read on for an in-depth analysis from Jason.
Editor, Outsider Club
On July 15, Mark Pettibone and Conner O’Shea were walking home from a peaceful protest in Portland when they ran into another group of protesters who warned them that people in camouflage were driving around in unmarked vans and abducting people off the street.
Then, a half-a-block later, it happened.
A van pulled up to the two men and attempted to seize them.
“I see guys in camo,” O’Shea said. “Four or five of them pop out, open the door and it was just like, ‘Oh shit. I don’t know who you are or what you want with us.’”
At that point, O’Shea ran, but Pettibone was apprehended.
“I am basically tossed into the van,” Pettibone said. “And I had my beanie pulled over my face so I couldn’t see and they held my hands over my head.”
Pettibone was then driven around town, completely unaware of his surroundings, or the identity of his assailants, until he was led blindly into an unknown building.
“It was basically a process of facing many walls and corners as they patted me down and took my picture and rummaged through my belongings,” he said. “One of them said, ‘This is a whole lot of nothing.’”
And it was. Pettibone hadn’t committed any crime. He didn’t have any weapons or spray paint, and he hadn’t broken any laws.
He was simply kidnapped and detained. Unlawfully and unconstitutionally.
Nevertheless, Pettibone was put into a cell and read his Miranda rights. However, he wasn’t told why he was being detained, or what agency was responsible.
When asked if he’d waive his rights to answer some questions, Pettibone declined and requested a lawyer. An hour and a half after that, he was released with no paperwork, citation, or record of his arrest.
He simply found himself standing alone outside a federal courthouse.
He wouldn’t be the last Portland resident to have his rights violated. In the past several weeks, dozens of U.S. citizens have found themselves at the mercy of a shadow police force that shows little restraint and bears no accountability.
In addition to the kidnappings, the agents have been caught on video beating protestors (including a 53-year-old Navy veteran), dousing individuals and crowds with pepper spray and tear gas, and firing “less-lethal” munitions, including one that fractured a person’s skull.
Jennifer Kristiansen is a 37-year-old Portland mother and attorney who was protesting with the “Wall of Moms,” who have often made up the vanguard of the protests. She was ripped away from that wall by a federal officer with no name tag or insignia who then assaulted and groped her.
“Before we go in, he pushes me up against the wall, facing the wall, and uses his left hand to cup my right breast,” Kristiansen said. “And his right hand to flip up my skirt and grab my right butt cheek.”
Kristiansen was then charged with “forceable assault” on a federal officer identified only as “Agent Victim 1.”
Wolf in Portland
In the past few weeks, dozens of reports, videos, and rumors of non-descript government agents abusing American citizens with little or no evidence of wrongdoing and unclear jurisdiction have emerged. The Department of Homeland Security acknowledged that it is, in fact, the agency responsible.
The murky department founded in the wake of 9/11 has broad license to safeguard government property from terrorist attacks. It’s traditionally been used to protect potential targets such as the Statue of Liberty and the St. Louis arch. But now it’s been co-opted by an unpopular president desperate to marshal support, energize his base, and distract from the ongoing pandemic.
The DHS itself is headed by Chad Wolf, the acting-Secretary of Homeland Security. I stress “acting” because like many Trump administration officials, Wolf has not been confirmed by the Senate.
From 2005 to 2016 Wolf was a lobbyist who helped clients score government contracts from the TSA, where he worked from 2002 to 2005. In 2018 he signed on as Kirstjen Nielsen’s chief of staff at the DHS, where he helped craft the Trump administration’s family separation policy.
Now, he says, he has the right to establish a shadow police force within the department and deploy it as he sees fit — even if that means going into cities and states that don’t want him there.
“I offered DHS support to help locally address the situation that’s going on in Portland, and their only response was: please pack up and go home. That’s just not going to happen on my watch,” Wolf told Fox News last week. “I don’t need invitations by the state. We’re going to do that whether they like us there or not.”
Wolf’s force is a murky patchwork of highly specialized outfits that include the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and Customs and Border Protection’s Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC).
The latter is the CBP’s version of a SWAT team, and it’s traditionally been deployed to address terrorist threats along the border and conduct drug raids on high-value targets.
Its officers do not have the requisite experience or training to effectively monitor peaceful protests — something even an internal memo concedes. But like the DHS, as a whole, it’s been hijacked by Trump and corrupted by Wolf to the point that it’s now being used to brutalize American citizens.
This, according to Yale historian Timothy Snyder, is a common tactic for dictatorial regimes.
“This is a classic way that violence happens in authoritarian regimes, whether it’s Franco’s Spain or whether it’s the Russian Empire,” says Snyder. “The people who are getting used to committing violence on the border are then brought in to commit violence against people in the interior.”
Indeed, Snyder’s bestselling book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century,” released a month after Trump’s inauguration, offered a rather prescient warning about just this sort of thing.
“Be wary of paramilitaries,” he wrote. “When the pro-leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the end has come.”
That is what we’re now seeing.
The CBP itself is under federal authority, has leadership that’s fanatically devoted to Trump, and is saturated with far-right politics. That’s made it an ideal candidate to be exploited in this fashion.
“It doesn’t surprise me that Donald Trump picked CBP to be the ones to go over to Portland and do this,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro noted. “It has been a very problematic agency in terms of respecting human rights and in terms of respecting the law.”
The CBP’s Trail of Tears
By problematic, Castro is referring to the fact that the CBP has racked up more ethics, rules, and legal violations than any other federal law enforcement agency.
Indeed, CBP agents have been arrested for corruption, aggravated assault, domestic violence, sexual assault, and sex crimes against children, among others in a long list of offenses included in a 2018 CBP discipline analysis report.
That same year, CBP fired, or “removed,” 68 officers, based on the most recent data on disciplinary action within the agency.
Also in 2018, another 173 CBP officers retired or resigned as a result of an “agency-wide” action or investigation, the data states.
That was the same year federal investigators found a raft of disturbing and racist text messages sent by Border Patrol agents in southern Arizona after searching the phone of Matthew Bowen, an agent charged with running down a Guatemalan migrant with a Ford F-150 pickup truck.
The texts, which were revealed in a court filing in federal court in Tucson, described migrants as “guats,” “wild ass shitbags,” “beaners”, and “subhuman.” The messages included repeated discussions about burning the migrants up.
That tracks with the agency’s general ethos.
Last year, ProPublica uncovered a secret Facebook group of about 9,500 current and former Border Patrol agents who joked about migrant deaths and made racist and sexually aggressive comments about Congresswomen.
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) addresses misconduct that violates our Standards of Conduct and is contrary to our core values of vigilance, service to country, and integrity,” the official statement from CBP confirming the firings and suspensions states. “(Four) employees were removed from service, 38 employees were suspended without pay, and the remaining were disciplined with reprimands or counseling.”
Agents also frequently make racist, sexist, and violent remarks about the people they apprehend. One even berated wailing children, telling them to stop crying after they had been separated from their parents. Another child died of dehydration while in custody.
They spent $112 million of emergency fund meant to buy food and medicine for migrants on ATVs, dirt bikes and boats.
And then, there’s the violence.
In 2014 a CBP agent kidnapped and raped two Honduran girls and their mother. And in 2012, another shot into Mexico, killing a 16-year-old boy on a sidewalk in Nogales, Mexico.
In fact, since 2010, CBP agents have killed six people, including three children, by shooting across the border into Mexico. And at least 102 people have died as a result of encounters with Border Patrol in the last decade.
Hence, an internal investigation at DHS in 2015 that noted: “arrests for corruption of CBP personnel far exceed, on a per capita basis, such arrests at other federal law enforcement agencies.”
“These agents work in a limited Constitutional rights arena,” says Jenn Budd, a former Border Patrol agent turned migrant aid volunteer. “They are not accustomed to enforcing laws on Americans with Constitutional rights. They are not peace officers, and they are our nation’s most violent federal law enforcement agents.”
Yet that’s exactly what they’ve been given carte blanche to do these past few weeks. And now the cries aren’t just coming from immigrant children, but the protestors who have been inundated with tear gas.
Of course, they think they’re the good guys.
Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan paints the Portland protesters with a broad brush, labeling all of them criminals. And as far as he’s concerned the Mayor and governor aren’t much better.
“It’s unbelievable that the local mayor actually said that the mere presence of federal law enforcement is what’s inciting the violence,” says Morgan. “That’s outrageous. That’s absurd and it’s idiotic.”
But the presence of the officers has incited more violence and disruption. Prior to their arrival, the protests had been petering out. The arrival of shock troops, however, brought a resurgence. Protests by dozens have transformed into protests by thousands, with more personal injury and more property destruction.
That, in turn, is bringing more federal agents.
And on top of that, Morgan, Wolf, and Donald Trump plan to send more of their shadow officers into other U.S. cities despite growing pushback from the public and local authorities.
Resistance or Escalation
Protesters including members of Wall of Moms and Don’t Shoot Portland are now suing the Trump administration over civil rights violations. The Oregon State’s Attorney has sued as well.
Meanwhile, Larry Krasner and Marilyn Mosby, the District and State’s Attorneys for Philadelphia and Baltimore, respectively, have promised to criminally charge any federal agents that come into their cities and overstep their bounds.
“We were elected to prosecute violations of the law in these cities,” they wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post. “We strongly believe that the actions in Oregon are illegal. Should the president proceed with his plan in our cities, his agents will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Local authorities have the power to initiate an arrest and prosecution… These crimes would be offenses against the residents of our respective states — not federal offenses — and, therefore, the president would have no capacity to pardon those we might prosecute. All of this is to say, we will not stand idly by while the president illegally turns loose paramilitary forces to commit criminal acts and violate the constitutional rights of innocent Americans for the purpose of energizing his base and improving his poll numbers.”
The pardon issue is key because President Trump has routinely leaned on the power of the presidential pardon to absolve his allies of crimes.
Most recently, he commuted the sentence of Roger Stone, who was convicted on seven charges, including lying to Congress, witness tampering, and obstructing a congressional committee proceeding.
And prior to that, he told his Justice Department to abandon its case against Michael Flynn, who was found guilty of lying to the FBI.
It’s things like this that make Trump’s pledges to defend “law and order” and the sanctity of federal courthouses ring hollow.
It’s also an ominous glimpse of what could come if Trump refuses to leave office should he lose the upcoming election — a threat Trump has made repeatedly.
“I have to see,” Trump, who has also mused about serving more than two terms as president, replied when Fox News’ Chris Wallace asked point-blank if he’d accept defeat. “No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no.”
No doubt, it’s easy to envision a January in which Trump’s shadow army is once again deployed — this time in front of the White House.
And at that point, America’s descent into fascism would be complete.
Editor, The Wealth Warrior
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