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Feds Give In, Maybe

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

It’s possible someone finally persuaded President Donald

Trump that sending to Portland federal agents outfitted in military camouflage to confront civilians with tear gas and other devices during two months of nightly street demonstrations won’t win him voters beyond his followers.

It’s good bet his supporters, allies, followers, cultists, white supremacists, the “some very good people” who are neo-Nazis and far right extremists who marched in Charlottesville, Va., are all in favor of going after liberals and who Trump described as “anarchists.”

He just sticks labels on people he doesn’t even know.

Why didn’t he go to Portland to speak quietly with the demonstrators, find out what they’re about since they’re his citizens and be presidential, for a change?

Even President Richard M. Nixon spontaneously did that for two hours with antiwar demonstrators and students at the Lincoln Memorial May 9, 1970, when Trump was 23; Melania was 14 days old.

In Portland, the Trump administration, in what appeared to be a reluctant surrender, agreed with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, to make a phased withdrawal of federal forces from the beleaguered city. When they would disappear entirely seemed to be left up in the air because Acting Secretary Chad Wolf of the Department of Homeland Security, a Trump sycophant who has no experience in these matters, said he wants to ensure the federal courthouse will be fully protected from further damage.

Oregon state troopers and city police will replace the agents from Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, both attached to DHS, to protect free speech and the exterior of the courthouse, Brown said in announcing the agreement Wednesday.

I asked my neighbor in Santa Fe, N.M., Brian Norris, a retired teacher, what he thinks of protests in Portland and in other cities and if he sees them as playing into Trump’s campaign law and order playbook in a bid to win votes. The deployment of federal forces comes, of course, as his poll showings against Joe Biden have sagged and bad news must be settling in.

“Doesn’t really matter” if demonstrations spread elsewhere, Norris replied. “The Trump campaign has already used a picture of a police officer being beaten that came from the Ukraine in 2014 as an example of what America would be under Biden. So good demonstrators, bad rioters, who cares? You cannot trust the images that are presented by these latter day Leni Riefenstahls.”

Helene Bertha Amalie “Leni” Riefenstahl, a German, was in silent films and became a Nazi sympathizer. Hitler asked her to make Nazi propaganda films. She agreed.

“What is a powerful antidote to his (Trump’s) putrid propaganda,” Norris wrote in an email, “is the ever-increasing number of moms, dads, vets, etc., willing to put it on the line and stand up to the secret police. The truth is out there!”

That an American city must seek a written disengagement from federal agents, whose presence never was welcomed, certainly is a benchmark between a state authority and the federal government.

This at a time when the country is embroiled in a fierce battle against a stubborn novel coronavirus that is the seedbed of a horrific disease, COVID-19, that has killed more than 150,000 Americans, infected more than 4.3 million others, crippled an economy that had been in relatively good shape and put at least 18 million people out of work.

And also in the midst of a nationwide fight for racial justice because of police brutality against minorities, especially for the descendants of slaves. (I should note that today, says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Native Americans are more likely to be killed by the police than any other racial or ethnic group,” according to New Yorker staffer and historian Jill Lepore in an article about U.S. police history in the magazine’s July 20 edition.

Police violence against our Indigenous people? Now? In the 21st century?

Whatever happened to states’ rights, that onetime Republican symbol of constitutional freedom? How did the feds honor it in Oregon? Wasn’t it once used as a justification for slavery – that the southern states had a right to keep people in bondage? Heck, the South even seceded from the Union and fought a war that killed about 680,000 Americans to preserve that right.

“After my repeated requests, the federal government has agreed to a phased withdrawal of federal officers . . .,” Brown said. “These federal officers have acted as an occupying force, refused accountability, and brought violence and strife to our community.”

Wolf, apparently a tough guy who doesn’t give up easily, had a different angle. He said there won’t be a pullout of federal forces until “we are assured” that the federal courthouse that had been marred with graffiti “and other federal properties will no longer be attacked and that the seat of justice will remain secure.”

Wolf obviously was miffed at Brown blaming the feds for violence in the city.

“No other city in the country has refused to work with federal law enforcement like Portland has,” he said. “I’m glad they are finally seeing the errors of their ways, and stepping up and doing what they should have been doing for the past 60 days, and that is partnering with federal law enforcement to do their job.”

Cheeky, eh? I don’t know who Wolf thinks he is, but he’s certainly not Brown’s boss. He was a lobbyist and congressional staff member before Trump chose him as another loyalist to run another government agency. Lucky us.

Richard C. Gross, a career journalist at home and abroad, retired as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.

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