Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes posit a reason behind Mine Furor’s test-run in Portland of what David A. Graham calls the “improvisational authoritarianism” of a nascent interior ministry, while Kelly Weill and Winston Ross raise the issue of what happens if the official word is undercut by support for federal troops by police unions.
Jurecic and Wittes:
The answer is unfortunately obvious. Having given up on controlling the pandemic that has now killed more than 140,000 Americans, and faced with dimming reelection prospects, Trump is doing his best to substantiate the tough-guy vision of the presidency that has always appealed to him. During earlier stages of his administration, he played out this fantasy along the southern border of the United States by deploying troops to the American Southwest and warning about “caravans” of travelers illegally entering the country. Now, as officers typically tasked with enforcing the border have been deployed into Portland, Trump’s apocalyptic warnings about the need for a brutal response to any perceived threat have also moved from the edge of the country into American cities.
The agents out on the streets of Portland are detailed from Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Among the forces deployed in Washington last month, when Trump briefly barricaded himself within the White House, were officers from the Federal Bureau of Prisons. When the president ramped up security around statues, in response to vandalism and destruction of monuments, DHS agents were assigned that duty.
None of these tasks has much to do with the stated mandates of these agencies or departments—Coast Guard officers aren’t generally trained for riot control—and this is “homeland security” in only the most general sense. The reason these agents are the ones being deployed is simply that they’re the ones who are available. In the absence of a federal police force, the administration is simply pulling in any federal law-enforcement officer that it has the power to reassign.
Weill and Ross:
Although Portland leadership roundly decried the federal presence, the president of Portland’s police union met with the head of the Department of Homeland Security last week to discuss the agents, apparently without the knowledge of the city’s police chief. The president of Chicago’s police union made his own envoys, asking Trump for federal intervention.
At ongoing protests in Portland, officers clad in Portland Police uniforms stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the anonymous feds dressed in camouflage. While Portland Police are bound by a judge’s injunction on the use of non-lethal tactics such as tear gas, the feds aren’t. So the local cops are using the feds as cover, argued Juan Chavez, a Portland civil rights attorney.