Watching Constitutionally Protected Freedoms Die in Oregon

Wall of Moms in front of the Justice Center in downtown Portland on the 53rd night of protest – Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

One of the most clear signs of a fascist takeover of a nation or society is when words start to lose their meaning.

Take Portland Oregon. How’s your geography? Does Oregon share a border with any foreign country? The answer of course is no. The nearest foreign border is with Canada and that border lies 300 miles north of Portland. And yet for the past week or more, unidentified armed, military-clad men in camouflage uniforms from the federal Customs and Border Protection Service (CBP), armed with weapons like assault rifles, guns that shoot so-called “rubber” bullets (actually hard supposedly “non-lethal” projectiles with a very thin plastic coating that can cause serious bruising, loss of an eye and, in certain circumstances depending on what part of the body they hit, death),and wearing no identification numbers of even organizational insignia have been brutalizing and arresting protesters in that city.

This armed federal “police” force, which has pushed aside Portland’s own police, has according to a report in the Nation magazine, been deployed in Oregon over objections the state government on orders of President Trump and the Department of Homeland Security.

The justification for they CBP’s presence and its brutal arrests in Portland is President Trump June 26 Executive Order on Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence. When Trump issued that order he said it “authorized the Federal Government to arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys any monument, statue or other such Federal property in the US with up to 10 years in prison.”

But a president doesn’t make the law. Under the US Constitution, the president “is responsible for the execution and enforcement of the laws created by Congress.” It does not say that the president makes the laws.That is what dictators do.

Like many of this president’s executive orders (and of executive orders signed by his two predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, it must be added!) this executive order vastly exceeds the president’s Constitutional authority.

But the use of Border Patrol forces, and the secretive way they have been operating, refusing to follow basic guidelines for police which require identification to guard against illegal behavior and unnecessary violence and brutality by individual officer, demonstrates how far down the road of a police state this country has moved over the last 19 years.

It was not that long ago that the country was transformed overnight into a garrison state following the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon with passage by Congress, after no hearings, of a still-in-effect Authorization for Use of Military Force that launched the so-called “War” on Terror.

Under that 2001 act — still in force thanks to a supine Congress of Republicans and Democrats — as well as the ironically named Patriot Act passed the same year which basically codifies a whole raft of police-state measures that eviscerate most of the articles in the Bill of Rights, presidents have assumed he mantel of dictators.

Trump, moving beyond his two predecessors and building on their own predations against Constitutionally protected freedoms, has simply moved the federal forces of authoritarian repression out into the open. Instead of working in the dark, spying on the American people, and developing dossiers on millions, developing a list of “suspected terrorists” containing over a million names (this journalist discovered last year that he is included on it!), he and his laces in the “Justice” Department, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (responsible for the CBP and a host of other shadowy police-type outfits) are now ordering their gun-toting minions to begin actually arresting, terrorizing and locking up American citizens, often without providing any information on their whereabouts.

Make no mistake: These people making the arrests are not police. They are out-of-control presidential thugs. State and local officials including the governor of Oregon and the mayor of Portland have called on the president and federal officials to withdraw the CBP and other federal “police” like officers of the Federal Protection Service out of the state, and to cease their assaulting and arresting of protesters, but they are proving powerless. To stop the Constitutional mayhem, they’d have to order their own police forces to stand against the federal officers, and there’s no telling what would happen then.

In one interesting hint of independence, the elected Sheriff of Multnomah County, Mike Reese, criticized the federal militarized police action in Portland saying, “The actions by out-of-state federal agents last weekend failed to display good decision making and sound tactical judgment. The use of force did not appear proportional to the actions of the demonstrators. I look forward to a thorough investigation into the matter. These actions caused a significant setback in our local efforts to end the nightly violence around the Justice Center and in Portland.”

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the federal government calling the attacks by federal law enforcement agents on protesters in Oregon unconstitutional.

A news release issued yesterday by the Oregon ACLU stated:

“Today’s lawsuit seeks to block federal law enforcement from dispersing, arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force against journalists or legal observers. The lawsuit is one of many the ACLU will be filing against federal authorities in Portland for their unconstitutional attacks on people protesting the police killing of George Floyd.

“‘This is a fight to save our democracy,’ said Kelly Simon, interim legal director with the ACLU of Oregon. ‘Under the direction of the Trump administration, federal agents are terrorizing the community, risking lives, and brutally attacking protesters demonstrating against police brutality. This is police escalation on top of police escalation. These federal agents must be stopped and removed from our city. We will continue to bring the full fire power of the ACLU to bear until this lawless policing ends.’

“The lawsuit was filed on behalf of legal observers and local journalists. Named plaintiffs include The Portland Mercury; Matthew Lewis-Rolland, a freelance photographer who federal agents shot 10 times in the back on Sunday; Justin Yau, a freelance journalist who federal agents attacked with tear gas; and Doug Brown, a legal observer who federal agents threatened to shoot. The individuals were wearing high-visibility shirts that said ‘PRESS’ or ‘legal observer.’

Words meanwhile continue to lose their meaning.

One that has ceased to have its original meaning in the Constitution is “president.” Beginning with the two terms of George W. Bush and his consigliere, Vice President Dick Cheney, the White House has argued that, under the 2001 AUMF a president has virtually unlimited dictatorial power. Only fear of public outrage constrained both Bush and Obama from exercising that claimed power, which is why their actions were largely behind the scenes — approving torture, extrajudicial killings of Americans by drone, massive electronic eavesdropping, and secret renditions and years of detention without trial for captives. Trump has tossed out any such concerns about public outrage, and, apparently fearful of being pushed of power in this November’s election, appears to be going for broke with a full assumption of unrestrained police power.

The federal courts, including the Supreme Court, have been successfully packed with Federalist Society sycophants enamored of centralized state power, making the long-problematic term “American justice” increasingly ironic.

Unless Americans succeed in blocking this onward march towards unrestrained federal power, critical freedoms of speech, assembly, press, the right to a speedy trial by one’s peers, protection against “unreasonable” search and seizure, or arrest without charge will be wiped out.

I wrote an article in the Nation magazine warning that Trump and AG Bill Barr had told the nation’s governors they planned to use the “Occupy Model” of repression of peaceful protests adopted by President Obama to crush the current wave of protests over police brutality and militarization. Not that “model” of extreme federally led police repression has begun fo real.

The silence in Congress is deafening.

So is the lack of concern in much of the national media.

How long will the term “free press,” or for that matter, “freedom,” have any real meaning?

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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