Fascism in Portland

On the other hand there are genuine assaults on freedom. It’s just that they don’t come from the CDC.

In the early hours of July 15, after a night spent protesting at the Multnomah County Justice Center and Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse, Mark Pettibone and his friend Conner O’Shea decided to head home.

Things had been calm; the Portland cops and the feds had mostly kept a low profile.

A block west of Chapman Square, Pettibone and O’Shea bumped into a group of people who warned them that people in camouflage were driving around the area in unmarked minivans grabbing people off the street.

Uh…what? That could be anybody. That could be far-right vigilantes. That’s terrifying.

They had barely made it half a block when an unmarked minivan pulled up in front of 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.’”

You’ll never guess who they are.

Federal law enforcement officers have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland and detain protesters since at least July 14. Personal accounts and multiple videos posted online show the officers driving up to people, detaining individuals with no explanation of why they are being arrested, and driving off.

Sound like fascism? Yes?

The tactic appears to be another escalation in federal force deployed on Portland city streets, as federal officials and President Donald Trump have said they plan to “quell” nightly protests outside the federal courthouse and Multnomah County Justice Center that have lasted for more than six weeks. 

We’re allowed to protest. That’s a genuine issue of freedom. The right to protest is a real right, unlike the “right” to infect other people with deadly diseases.

Officers from the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and Customs and Border Protection’s BORTAC, have been sent to Portland to protect federal property during the recent protests against racism and police brutality.

In unmarked vehicles???

But interviews conducted by OPB show officers are also detaining people on Portland streets who aren’t near federal property, nor is it clear that all of the people being arrested have engaged in criminal activity. Demonstrators like O’Shea and Pettibone said they think they were targeted by federal officers for simply wearing black clothing in the area of the demonstration.

Pettibone and O’Shea both said they couldn’t think of anything they might have done to end up targeted by law enforcement. They attend protests regularly but they said they aren’t “instigators.” They don’t spray paint buildings, shine laser pointers at officers or do anything else other than attend protests, which law enforcement have regularly deemed “unlawful assemblies.”

“It’s like stop and frisk meets Guantanamo Bay,” said attorney Juan Chavez, director of the civil rights project at the Oregon Justice Resource Center. 

Chavez has worked on litigation surrounding the weeks of protests and helped lead efforts to curb local police from using tear gas and munitions on protesters. He called the arrest by federal officers “terrifying.”

“You have laws regarding probable cause that can lead to arrests,” he said. “It sounds more like abduction. It sounds like they’re kidnapping people off the streets.”

Ashlee Albies, a civil rights attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, said Pettibone’s detention is an example of intimidation by federal law enforcement, and noted that people have a First Amendment right to demonstrate. She also said law enforcement officials have to follow procedures when they detain someone. 

It turns out Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf was in Portland that day.

In a letter released Thursday, Wolf said, “Portland has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city.”

Under siege by a violent mob? For real? So the people of Portland are trapped while a violent mob surrounds the city and prevents all movement in or out? So the people of Portland will soon starve?

“A federal courthouse is a symbol of justice,” Wolf wrote, denigrating protests against racism in the United States’ criminal justice system as an angry mob. “To attack it is to attack America.”

And to protest outside it is to…?

I ask because protesting outside a building is not attacking that building.

This week, Trump has repeatedly spoken out about what he calls lawlessness in the city. He praised the role of federal law enforcement officers in Portland and alluded to increasing their presence in cities nationwide. Speaking to Fox News on Thursday, Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan called the protesters criminals.

“I don’t want to get ahead of the president and his announcement,” Morgan said, “but the Department of Justice is going to be involved in this, DHS is going to be involved in this; and we’re really going to take a stand across the board. And we’re going to do what needs to be done to protect the men and women of this country.”

So Fox News is setting policy now.

Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office declined to offer comment on the latest events involving federal officers, but reiterated a statement from earlier in the week, saying federal officers should be restricted to guarding federal property.

“We do not need or want their help,” Wheeler said. “The best thing they can do is stay inside their building, or leave Portland altogether.”

Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkely said if Wolf is coming to inflame the situation in Portland so the President can “look tough,” the acting DHS leader should leave.

“Federal forces shot an unarmed protester in the face,” Merkely said in a tweet. “These shadowy forces have been escalating, not preventing, violence.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown similarly called for federal law enforcement officers to leave Portland. She added, Wolf is on a “mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes.”

“This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety,” Brown said in a statement. “The President is failing to lead this nation. Now he is deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland in a blatant abuse of power by the federal government.”

Trump lets the virus run amok while unleashing federal cops in unmarked vans to assault and kidnap random protesters.

This is literally what fascism looks like. Not an approach, not sort of kind of, but just the thing itself.

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