Bret Weinstein: Portland Demonstrators Weaponize Out-of-Context Video

00:03
first of all
00:03
uh you know black block which is sort of
00:06
the
00:07
a good number of the people that you
00:09
know meet in parks at night at eight
00:11
o’clock you don’t know what park it’s
00:12
going to be if you’re a citizen unless
00:13
you’re like
00:14
watching you know the certain groups
00:15
that announce it earlier in the day
00:17
and they have their little they get
00:19
together they do a little shield
00:20
practice and then they
00:21
they go out and they attack whatever
00:23
they’re going to attack whether it’s you
00:24
know the portland police union or
00:25
the ice headquarters or a police station
00:29
and they uh they have and i i think
00:32
you’ve probably seen this
00:33
uh they have dozens and dozens of people
00:36
running around that says
00:37
press right little a little on their hat
00:40
or on their shirt now
00:41
obviously as a real press person i’ve
00:43
never done that in my entire life but
00:45
they do this for several reasons one is
00:47
because uh
00:48
in portland you’re not allowed to
00:49
interfere with the press the press must
00:51
be allowed to observe
00:52
but they also film incessantly first of
00:55
all they’re of the filming generation
00:57
right everything
00:58
is filmed and then they edit it very
01:00
carefully
01:01
so that you see that they are always
01:04
sort of victimized by the police or
01:07
you know by a citizen that’s yelling at
01:09
them meanwhile
01:10
um if you are just trying to film
01:12
because that’s your job
01:14
uh they will just shout in your face
01:16
over and over and over you’re not
01:17
allowed to film you’re not allowed to
01:18
film it’s like excuse me who
01:20
who in the world said this you could
01:21
tell me that but it’s not true
01:23
i had my phone stolen i luckily got it
01:26
back
01:26
um because i was filming um but they are
01:29
creating the narrative that seeps out
01:32
into the media
01:34
uh one thing i noticed too that they do
01:36
um they they have these shields right
01:38
that they build and has the anarchist
01:40
system where it doesn’t and they go out
01:42
and they
01:42
kind of like set up they’re gonna
01:44
they’re gonna defend themselves from the
01:46
police
01:47
but i don’t think that’s what it’s about
01:48
at all it’s all about getting the
01:50
picture
01:50
of the police that cuts through these
01:53
shields like a hot knife through butter
01:55
because these kids
01:55
are they are sort of ungainly for the
01:59
most part
02:00
and it’s basically to get another shot
02:02
of them being
02:03
victimized by the brutal gestapo that
02:07
are the police
02:08
that they are out to uh get rid of
02:11
uh they’re not doing a terribly bad job
02:14
of of
02:14
making uh the police look bad if you
02:18
want to believe their narrative
02:20
yeah i i agree and it’s um it’s actu
02:23
it’s absolutely terrifying
02:24
to watch how the press handles what’s
02:27
going on
02:28
it doesn’t make the least effort to
02:30
report what’s
02:31
actually taking place in essence what
02:33
happens is
02:35
um you know actually there’s a have you
02:38
seen a film
02:39
i think it’s called a film unfinished
02:43
yeah what it is is the nazis set out to
02:47
make a propaganda film
in the warsaw
02:49
ghetto
02:50
and they never finished it and a modern
02:53
director
02:54
took the footage and reassembled it so
02:58
you could see what the nazis were up to
03:00
right and it was like take after
03:03
take of some situation that made the
03:07
jews and the ghetto
03:08
look awful but it was like they would do
03:10
the same scene
03:11
you know 20 times right with the intent
03:14
to get the one that looked worse
03:16
and that the only thing you needed to
03:18
see in order to understand what was
03:19
really going on was that you know the 20
03:21
takes

03:22
you know where it was like action you
03:24
know um
03:26
and so this is it has the same flavor
03:29
where it’s like okay
03:30
you’re going to have hour after hour of
03:32
interaction
03:33
between the police and the rioters
03:37
and they’re going to cut to the 15
03:39
seconds that if you just don’t see what
03:41
happened right before and right after
03:43
you’ll take this to be the police
03:45
aggressing
03:46
against the rioters
and the fact is the
03:49
other story is
03:50
right there ready to be reported but
03:52
what i i don’t see
03:53
is the national press anywhere no well
03:57
you know it that’s interesting i didn’t
03:59
see much national press uh when i was in
04:01
the ground either in the federal in
04:02
front of the federal building or when i
04:04
was going out last week with them on the
04:05
ground
04:06
um you know there’s a lot of news going
04:08
on in the country obviously
04:10
uh portland is a story um but a lot of
04:13
people i think
04:14
are you know just relying on you know
04:16
grabbing these clips from online and
04:18
and most of it will grab the narrative
04:21
that it’s like you know the
04:22
the evil feds and the evil police and
04:25
then of course
04:25
unfortunately you have on the other side
04:27
which they just grab the
04:29
the absolutely worst thing that some
04:31
protesters are
04:32
demonstrated i’m calling them
04:33
demonstrators now because if you call
04:35
them protesters people are like are you
04:37
kidding
04:37
you’re gonna still run with that line if
04:39
you call them rioters then you get
04:41
they’re just out there peaceful
04:42
protesting so i’m settling on
04:43
demonstrators right now
04:45
i want to come back to that but i
04:46
finished your life and i want to okay
04:48
i’m just saying you’ve got the other
04:49
side of the press that goes too far
04:51
i think sometimes which is like savage
04:54
is coming to your city
04:56
and it’s like okay guys you know the
04:58
story you have this on outside like
05:00
the story’s in the middle to them for
05:03
the most part
05:04
so that’s that’s been the story i’ve
05:05
been trying to tell it anyway
05:06
demonstrators go for it
05:08
well first of all i’m not so sure the
05:10
story is in the middle
05:12
um okay the story is not the version
05:16
that either of the two now discontinuous
05:19
elements of the press are reporting so i
05:22
guess maybe technically it’s between
05:24
them
05:25
you have a really inconvenient video for
05:28
their narrative right right now it’s not
05:31
hard to catch an inconvenient video
05:33
of their narrative because they’re
05:35
constantly doing things to provoke and
05:37
if you catch the provocation
05:38
then the whole thing is over so what
05:41
happens well
05:43
they will demonize you they will
05:45
demonize your publication
05:48
and if all else fails they will just
05:51
flat out lie about the nature of
05:54
whatever it is
05:55
you have produced and the point is it is
05:58
not
05:59
going to i call it implausible
06:01
deniability
06:02
and the idea is it’s constructed for
06:05
people
06:06
who want something to say and the point
06:08
is it doesn’t matter how low grade it is
06:10
they’ll give you the best thing they can
06:12
give you to dismiss anything you want to
06:13
dismiss
06:14
right up you know through a lie if they
06:16
have to
06:17
and the point is if you’re msnbc and
06:20
you’re trying to construct a story of
06:22
peaceful protesters
06:24
who are being attacked by trump’s feds
06:27
yada yada
06:28
then you just go through the thing and
06:30
basically the point is you have an
06:31
excuse for everything you don’t want to
06:33
report
06:34
and then you have a list of things that
06:36
you want to amplify and you’ve created
06:38
total fiction out of a kind of
06:43
pre-rationalized editable content
06:46
and we can’t live this way the fact is
06:48
to be
06:49
a an entity of the press to be
06:53
journalistic you have to report things
06:56
that are not consistent with the
06:58
overarching story you’re telling
07:00
when they happen and in this case um if
07:02
you don’t do that what you get is a
07:03
totally
07:04
phony story right a totally phony story
07:06
that’s very compelling
07:08
because it’s made of video you can’t
07:11
can’t walk in with your uh with your
07:14
your your end like knowing oh i know how
07:16
the story’s gonna you gotta let the
07:17
story tell itself to you
07:19
i think two things i think it’s ex i i i
07:23
not only think
07:24
it’s extremely irresponsible for any
07:26
news organization
07:28
or any entity at all to not report what
07:31
they see
07:32
to you know to trim the facts to fit the
07:34
theory
07:35
i think it’s extremely dangerous i i i
07:39
know it’s extremely dangerous
07:40
and it’s equally dangerous to to pacify
07:44
the story
07:45
to play down what’s happening it’s like
07:48
and i
07:48
you know you get this has sort of been a
07:50
little like an insider baseball thing
07:52
lately it’s like what’s the journalist
07:54
responsibility
07:55
is it to you know fight power is it to
07:57
speak truth to power the journalist’s
07:58
responsibility
07:59
is to report what you see okay yeah
08:02
we’re all going to have our little
08:03
blinders
08:04
i get it i get it you know but you
08:07
should and that is something that
08:09
i think has been in short supply in
08:11
portland in my experience
08:13
oh it’s been it’s been absent
08:16
the danger couldn’t be greater i mean
08:19
and i say this is somebody who’s
08:21
now living in portland i’m watching the
08:24
police
08:25
um dwindle i’m watching them
08:28
hamstrung i’m watching them fatigue i
08:31
mean they are
08:32
literally being attacked up in seattle
08:35
you know it’s a
08:36
different version of the same phenomenon
08:39
we had an incident
08:40
where quick drying cement of some kind
08:44
was used to attempt to lock police into
08:47
a building that was being set on fire
08:50
that’s i mean
08:53
that’s attempted murder right now i
08:55
don’t know if this was symbolic
08:57
or if they really thought the door was
08:58
going to seal but i want
09:00
people to think about what it is like to
09:02
have a group of people
09:03
demonizing the police as all cops are
09:06
bastards
09:07
as they are actually contemplating
09:10
simulating hinting at uh suggesting
09:14
murder of police right and
09:17
demonstrating that actually you know
09:19
what they were in the commercial
09:21
district they were attacking government
09:23
buildings
09:23
they’re now in neighborhoods they are
09:25
now revealing
09:27
that they view the populace of portland
09:29
as the enemy
09:30
and the fact is there’s no way out based
09:34
on
09:35
courageous leadership our leadership our
09:37
civilian leadership
09:38
in portland is absolutely out to lunch
09:41
it has been coddling this it has created
09:43
the phenomenon
09:44
and there’s no alternative of people who
09:46
are just even sensible
09:48
so where does this go so a couple of
09:51
things in terms of what they’re doing to
09:52
the police i know they’re throwing these
09:54
sort of um
09:55
you know balloons now or paint balloons
09:56
that have um
09:58
grit in it so it’ll actually like damage
10:00
the helmet or damage a windshield so you
10:02
can’t even like
10:03
uh you can’t even clean yourself off to
10:05
see what you need to do
10:06
they also do things that that are so i
10:09
mean you realize sometimes how young
10:11
these people are they they they now
10:14
throw like
10:14
feces i i was there one night and the
10:17
the cop was airing out the lobby of the
10:19
police station because they came in
10:20
through a bucket of
10:21
species and diarrhea i’m like so they
10:24
actually did that like they all [ __ ] in
10:25
a bucket
10:26
like like this is like incredible you
10:29
know that this is what you would think
10:31
is the way we’re going to change the
10:32
world is we’re all going to poop in a
10:34
bucket
10:35
it’s mental patient stuff and to do it
10:38
in the middle of a pandemic yes
10:41
wow well you know they’re invincible
10:43
because they’re 20. but um one thing i
10:45
did want to mention
10:46
i was speaking with someone uh who had
10:49
knew a lot about black bloc and uh she
10:52
was saying
10:53
that because the optics are so important
10:56
um they actually don’t want to kill
10:59
anybody
11:00
like they set the the cop shop the um
11:02
gesture center on fire
11:03
may 29th i wrote a story about a woman
11:05
that was works there’s trapped in the
11:06
basement
11:07
you talk about rubber cementing someone
11:09
in um
11:10
they actually know that killing someone
11:14
is going to be bad optics so they’re
11:15
going to keep that but here’s my
11:17
contention
11:18
and i’ve written about this this
11:20
movement has a glow
11:21
right and it glows and it glows and it
11:24
glows what
11:25
people are attracted to glow it’s not
11:27
always going to be someone that’s in
11:28
your little black block affinity group
11:31
it’s going to be mr bonehead over here
11:33
that is going to be a hero
11:35
or going to like just take it to the
11:36
next level you have no control over that
11:39
right right oh so i don’t accept this uh
11:42
they know
11:43
for exactly the reason you just pointed
11:45
out some of them know
11:47
right but the very nature of this thing
11:49
the cellular nature of black bloc
11:52
and their central dogma
11:55
involves this euphemistically named
11:57
diversity of tactics thing
12:00
and the point is diversity of tactics
12:02
means
12:03
essentially look um we’re going to have
12:06
some
12:07
timid people they’re going to do some
12:08
protest stuff that’ll be good for the
12:10
optics we’re going to have some violent
12:11
people they’re going to do some thuggery
12:13
right and you know innovate something
12:16
and the point is
12:17
look you’re telling people that it’s a
12:20
diversity of tactics
12:21
you’re spray painting the wall with the
12:24
suggestion that police
12:26
deserve to be murdered right if somebody
12:29
takes your goddamn suggestion
12:32
right that’s on you you set this up and
12:34
the fact that you didn’t really
12:36
mean it is nothing right but they’ll
12:39
never but they’ll never
12:41
ever accept that right so okay joe
12:44
bonehead goes and he kills two cops
12:46
right but who’s gonna take
12:48
responsibility for that
12:50
why do we care what they accept
12:54
they are in violation of the law they
12:57
are
12:57
proposing things that are inconsistent
13:00
with the continuing of society
13:02
we have every right to shut this down
13:05
and you know what it’s going to look
13:06
like when it gets shut down
13:07
it’s going to be ugly so be it that’s
13:10
the nature of it
13:20
[Music]
13:20
you

What is the protestors’ plan? (Nancy Rommelmann & Bret Weinstein)

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/7xxnbUa7EkI” frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen></iframe>

Bret Weinstein says Portland Protestors are trying to turn the public against the police and render the police unable to do their job.

He says the evenings start as a protest (for the media) but then escalate into a riot.

A Judge Said Federal Officers Can’t Arrest Or Use Force Against Journalists In Portland

The new 14-day temporary restraining order, which the Trump administration opposed, represents the first court order placing limits on the federal law enforcement action in Portland.

Trump’s Wag-the-Dog War

The president is looking for a dangerous domestic enemy to fight.

Some presidents, when they get into trouble before an election, try to “wag the dog” by starting a war abroad. Donald Trump seems ready to wag the dog by starting a war at home. Be afraid — he just might get his wish.

How did we get here? Well, when historians summarize the Trump team’s approach to dealing with the coronavirus, it will take only a few paragraphs:

“They talked as if they were locking down like China. They acted as if they were going for herd immunity like Sweden. They prepared for neither. And they claimed to be superior to both. In the end, they got the worst of all worlds — uncontrolled viral spread and an unemployment catastrophe.

“And then the story turned really dark.

“As the virus spread, and businesses had to shut down again and schools and universities were paralyzed as to whether to open or stay closed in the fall, Trump’s poll numbers nose-dived. Joe Biden opened up a 15-point lead in a national head-to-head survey.

“So, in a desperate effort to salvage his campaign, Trump turned to the Middle East Dictator’s Official Handbook and found just what he was looking for, the chapter titled, ‘What to Do When Your People Turn Against You?’

“Answer: Turn them against each other and then present yourself as the only source of law and order.”

America blessedly is not Syria, yet, but Trump is adopting the same broad approach that Bashar al-Assad did back in 2011, when peaceful protests broke out in the southern Syrian town of Dara’a, calling for democratic reforms; the protests then spread throughout the country.

Had al-Assad responded with even the mildest offer of more participatory politics, he would have been hailed as a savior by a majority of Syrians. One of their main chants during the demonstrations was, “Silmiya, silmiya” (“Peaceful, peaceful”).

But al-Assad did not want to share power, and so he made sure that the protests were not peaceful. He had his soldiers open fire on and arrest nonviolent demonstrators, many of them Sunni Muslims. Over time, the peaceful, secular elements of the Syrian democracy movement were sidelined, as hardened Islamists began to spearhead the fight against al-Assad. In the process, the uprising was transformed into a naked, rule-or-die sectarian civil war between al-Assad’s Alawite Shiite forces and various Sunni jihadist groups.

Al-Assad got exactly what he wanted — not a war between his dictatorship and his people peacefully asking to have their voices heard, but a war with Islamic radicals in which he could play the law-and-order president, backed by Russia and Iran. In the end, his country was destroyed and hundreds of thousands of Syrians were killed or forced to flee. But al-Assad stayed in power. Today, he’s the top dog on a pile of rubble.

I have zero tolerance for any American protesters who resort to violence in any U.S. city, because it damages homes and businesses already hammered by the coronavirus — many of them minority-owned — and because violence will only turn off and repel the majority needed to drive change.

But when I heard Trump suggest, as he did in the Oval Office on Monday, that he was going to send federal forces into U.S. cities, where the local mayors have not invited him, the first word that popped into my head was “Syria.”

Listen to how Trump put it: “I’m going to do something — that, I can tell you. Because we’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these — Oakland is a mess. We’re not going to let this happen in our country.”

These cities, Trump stressed, are “all run by very liberal Democrats. All run, really, by radical left. If Biden got in, that would be true for the country. The whole country would go to hell. And we’re not going to let it go to hell.”

This is coming so straight from the Middle East Dictator’s Handbook, it’s chilling. In Syria, al-Assad used plainclothes, pro-regime thugs, known as the shabiha (“the apparitions”) to make protesters disappear. In Portland, Ore., we saw militarized federal forces wearing battle fatigues, but no identifiable markings, arresting people and putting them into unmarked vans. How can this happen in America?

Authoritarian populists — whether Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland, or al-Assad — “win by dividing the people and presenting themselves as the savior of the good and ordinary citizens against the undeserving agents of subversion and ‘cultural pollution,’” explained Stanford’s Larry Diamond, author of “Ill Winds: Saving Democracy From Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency.”

In the face of such a threat, the left needs to be smart. Stop calling for “defunding the police” and then saying that “defunding” doesn’t mean disbanding. If it doesn’t mean that then say what it means: “reform.” Defunding the police, calling police officers “pigs,” taking over whole neighborhoods with barricades — these are terrible messages, not to mention strategies, easily exploitable by Trump.

The scene that The Times’s Mike Baker described from Portland in the early hours of Tuesday — Day 54 of the protests there — is not good: “Some leaders in the Black community, grateful for a reckoning on race, worry that what should be a moment for racial justice could be squandered by violence. Businesses supportive of reforms have been left demoralized by the mayhem the protests have brought. … On Tuesday morning, police said another jewelry store had been looted. As federal agents appeared to try detaining one person, others in the crowd rushed to free the person.”

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll, according to The Post, found that a “majority of Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement and a record 69 percent say Black people and other minorities are not treated as equal to white people in the criminal justice system. But the public generally opposes calls to shift some police funding to social services or remove statues of Confederate generals or presidents who enslaved people.”

All of this street violence and defund-the-police rhetoric plays into the only effective Trump ad that I’ve seen on television. It goes like this: A phone rings and a recording begins: “You have reached the 911 police emergency line. Due to defunding of the police department, we’re sorry but no one is here to take your call. If you’re calling to report a rape, please press 1. To report a murder, press 2. To report a home invasion, press 3. For all other crimes, leave your name and number and someone will get back to you. Our estimated wait time is currently five days. Goodbye.”

Today’s protesters need to trump Trump by taking a page from another foreign leader — a liberal — Ekrem Imamoglu, who managed to win the 2019 election to become the mayor of Istanbul, despite the illiberal Erdogan using every dirty trick possible to steal the election. Imamoglu’s campaign strategy was called “radical love.”

Radical love meant reaching out to the more traditional and religious Erdogan supporters, listening to them, showing them respect and making clear that they were not “the enemy” — that Erdogan was the enemy, because he was the enemy of unity and mutual respect, and there could be no progress without them.

As a recent essay on Imamoglu’s strategy in The Journal of Democracy noted, he overcame Erdogan with a “message of inclusiveness, an attitude of respect toward [Erdogan] supporters, and a focus on bread-and-butter issues that could unite voters across opposing political camps. On June 23, Imamoglu was again elected mayor of Istanbul, but this time with more than 54 percent of the vote — the largest mandate obtained by an Istanbul mayor since 1984 — against 45 percent for his opponent.”

Radical love. Wow. I bet that could work in America, too. It’s the perfect answer to Trump’s politics of division — and it’s the one strategy he’ll never imitate.

Nothing Can Justify the Attack on Portland

The question of whether these arrests are appropriate has a clear answer—at least in a nation that purports to live under the rule of law.

The Trump administration has faced outrage since reports first surfaced of federal agents in unmarked vehicles picking up and detaining protesters in Portland, Oregon. Rather than backing down, though, President Trump appears to have decided to go all in: In a July 20 interview, he threatened to send “more federal law enforcement” to New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, and Oakland—cities run by “liberal Democrats,” he asserted. The question of whether or not the administration has the legal authority to take such action will be fought out in legal challenges. But the question of whether or not these arrests are appropriate has a clear answer—at least in a nation that purports to live under the rule of law.

Asked on July 17 by an NPR reporter whether the reporting was true, Ken Cuccinelli, a senior Department of Homeland Security official, didn’t seem troubled by the department’s activities. Yes, he said, at least one person had been arrested in this fashion in Portland—though he wouldn’t say whether others had been as well, and if so how many. Cuccinelli added that this was how the Trump administration planned to respond to demonstrations at federal buildings and monuments elsewhere, too. “This is a posture we intend to continue not just in Portland, but in any of the facilities that we’re responsible for around the country,” he declared. And days later, he doubled down on CNN, insisting that the government had “intelligence about planned attacks on federal facilities” in Portland: “If we get the same kind of intelligence in other places … we would respond the same way.”

Reports of unidentified federal law-enforcement officials patrolling areas of Portland—and conducting arrests by scooping suspects up into vans—have generated a lot of anxiety. The Atlantic writer Anne Applebaum argued that the government’s actions amount to “performative authoritarianism.” Mary McCord, a lawyer who previously oversaw national-security issues at the Justice Department, warned The New York Times that manhandling Portland residents in this way “sends the message that these people are terrorists and need to be treated like terrorists.” And Oregon’s congressional delegation wrote a letter to the U.S. attorney general stating that the Portland arrests “are more reflective of tactics of a government led by a dictator, not from the government of our constitutional democratic republic.” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Ron Wyden, the senior senator from Oregon, both decried the arrests as unconstitutional.

Left: U.S. Marshals secure the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse in downtown Portland; Right: A protester chants during clashes with federal police. (Rian Dundon / Economic Hardship Reporting Project)

There will be time to sort out the legalities of the federal government’s actions. The attorney general of Oregon has filed suit against various federal agencies and officers involved in one arrest, arguing, “Ordinarily, a person … who is confronted by anonymous men in military-type fatigues and ordered into an unmarked van can reasonably assume that he is being kidnapped and is the victim of a crime.” The American Civil Liberties Union has also sued the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Marshals Service. The chairs of three House committees have requested an internal DHS investigation of the matter. Between these varied proceedings, the Trump administration will have to answer legal questions like whether it’s really okay for unidentified federal officers and agents to patrol streets, and whether an agency whose mission is to patrol the border is properly used without training for crowd control. The administration will also have to justify the propriety of the individual arrests both in any prosecutions of those detained and in any civil suits filed.

But let’s leave the legalities aside for now. Because whether the Trump administration has the technical legal authority to deploy this show of force in this particular matter does not answer the question of whether it should do so. The use of federal officers in this manner is corrosive of democratic culture, it makes for bad and ineffective law enforcement, and it’s likely physically dangerous both for the law-enforcement officers and for the protesters in question.

According to The New York Times, Homeland Security officers were deployed under the department’s authority to protect federal property—including, in this case, the Portland federal courthouse. The deployment of armed forces comes along with increased domestic intelligence operations. Yesterday, Lawfare reported that the Department of Homeland Security’s little-known intelligence arm had authorized intelligence collection on people connected to threats to monuments and statues, having designated the protection of such monuments a homeland-security mission following President Trump’s monument-protection executive order last month.

The existence of the department’s authority to protect federal property is uncontroversial. The federal government has the power to defend federal buildings and facilities from civil unrest, and a variety of federal laws protect federal property from attack and vandalism and federal officials from interference with their discharge of the government’s business.

While this authority certainly extends to the power to investigate federal crimes and arrest those suspected of them, it is not some general authority to patrol the downtowns of major cities and pick up and detain protesters merely because a federal building may be in the neighborhood.

Likewise, federal law-enforcement officers should conceal their identities only under highly specific circumstances—none of which involves crowd control at a protest or policing a public area. Officers might reasonably go undercover in an effort to infiltrate a criminal organization, for example. Federal air marshals are generally unidentified so they can blend in with passengers on commercial flights—preventing would-be hijackers from knowing which flights are patrolled. But it should be quite unthinkable for armed officers exercising coercive arrest powers in the streets of an American city to not identify themselves by name and affiliation.

A similar situation to the one in Portland arose in Washington, D.C., last month, when the president deployed National Guard units and a smorgasbord of federal law-enforcement agencies, including officers from the Department of Homeland Security, during protests over the killing of George Floyd. The deployment of anonymized federal muscle in various locations in the district angered many people, and rightly so. These recent actions in Portland are more jarring still.

For better or worse, residents of D.C. are used to a significant federal law-enforcement presence in their daily lives—albeit one that’s quite open and overt. A significant area of the city is patrolled by the United States Capitol Police, for example; uniformed Secret Service officers protect embassies; the United States Park Police has jurisdiction over national parkland, which is abundant in the city. And one or more unmarked dark SUVs accompanying some official-looking car is a pretty normal affair. But even a certain baseline comfort with a heavy federal presence didn’t prepare D.C. for an invasion of little green men. How much more shocking it must be for people in Portland, who lack that general familiarity, to suddenly have unidentified officers snatching people off the street and hustling them into unmarked vehicles.

There are additional concerns. The tactical divisions of the Homeland Security Department from which the officers in Portland appear to hail—Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—are not typically deployed at protests, but charged with enforcing immigration law and guarding the U.S. border. And as an internal department memo obtained by The New York Times shows, the officers sent into Portland’s streets were not trained to handle crowds. “If this type of response is going to be the norm,” the memo cautions, “specialized training and standardized equipment should be deployed to responding agencies.”

All of which brings us to the dangers—for everyone involved—of protecting federal buildings in this particular fashion. Sending out officers untrained for demonstrations risks violence if the agents end up in situations they don’t know how to handle. Recall that some of the protests in the wake of Floyd’s death swung out of control in large part because of ill-considered police actions. This anonymized deployment risks compounding that problem. Because if, as Oregon’s attorney general hypothesizes, a protester ”confronted by anonymous men in military-type fatigues and ordered into an unmarked van” were to “reasonably assume that he is being kidnapped and is the victim of a crime,” he might plausibly resort to violence in self-defense. This may be a particular risk if the person in question happens to be suspicious of police authority in the first place. And the risk may be further heightened by the fact that various militia groups have been known to organize armed groups in defense of supposed law-enforcement interests. Ambiguity about an officer’s identity or power to make an arrest serves the interests of neither law enforcement nor protesters.
U.S. Marshals retreat into the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse after making arrests at a Black Lives Matter demonstration. (Rian Dundon / Economic Hardship Reporting Project)

So why is the Trump administration sending into American cities officers who aren’t appropriately trained for the mission, are acting on legal authority that will require litigation to defend, and are being deployed to address a problem that the federal government could address by means far less provocative and in a fashion far less likely to escalate disorder?

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 message is as simple as it is ugly: The caravan isn’t just coming north through Mexico. It is already here—in the efforts to take down statues, in the protests, in the pockets of disorder in American urban areas and in the gatherings of people exercising their First Amendment rights to object to police misconduct. The caravan, in fact, is the city. And only Trump can protect you from it—whether it is what you see when you look south or what you see when you look downtown.

Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be working. Last night in Portland, as happened last month in Washington, D.C., peaceful protests only grew in response to the federal show of force. If Trump follows through on his promise to export the federal muscle to other cities, the anonymous agents may be met with more large crowds defying Trump’s efforts at vilification and coercion.

Navy vet beaten by federal agents: ‘They came out to fight’

The Navy veteran stands passively in Portland, Oregon, amid swirling tear gas. One of the militarized federal agents deployed by President Donald Trump swings a baton at him with full force. With both hands. Five times.

Under the assault, 53-year-old Christopher David seems like a redwood tree — impervious to the blows. But in a video shot by a reporter, another officer — wearing green military camouflage, a helmet and gas mask — sprays David full in the face with what appears to be pepper gas.

Video of the Saturday night incident has gone viral. Accounts of it have been reported by news outlets in the United States and around the world.

Today, David, who suffered two broken bones in his hand, finds himself a reluctant symbol of the protests taking place in Oregon’s largest city and the federal response to it. Militarized officers from a handful of agencies have been using tear gas, flash-bangs, pepper spray, “less-lethal” impact weapons and other munitions to disperse crowds.

“It isn’t about me getting beat up. It’s about focusing back on the original intention of all of these protests, which is Black Lives Matter,” David said in a phone interview Monday with The Associated Press.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which has deployed officers to Portland, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the incident that David recounted. DHS said in a statement about Saturday night’s events that some of the protesters were “violent anarchists” who had launched objects at federal officers, including fireworks and bags of paint, and tried to barricade officers inside the federal building.

Some vandalism, including graffiti, has occurred in the Portland protests, now in their 53rd day, and federal officials say they’ve responded to protect property and help restore order. One protester was arrested after allegedly assaulting a federal officer with a hammer.

But people peacefully protesting police brutality and racism, including a county commissioner and religious clerics, have been subjected to riot-control munitions. One demonstrator was hit in the head by an impact munition, shattering bones in his face and head. Some were snatched off the streets by the federal officers and stuffed into unmarked vehicles.

David, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a Navy veteran, was so disturbed by what he’d heard that he came to a protest site outside the federal building in downtown Portland on Saturday night.

He put on a sweatshirt with “Navy” emblazoned across the chest and a Navy ballcap, figuring the federal officers would be, like him, a military veteran. He figured they’d listen as he reminded them “that you take the oath to the Constitution; you don’t take the oath to a particular person.”

What they were doing was unconstitutional,” David said. ”Sometimes I worry that people take the oath of office or the oath to the Constitution, and it’s just a set of words that mean nothing. They really don’t feel in their heart the weight of those words.”

There was no talking. The federal officers, in full tactical gear, came charging out of the federal building.

“They came out in this phalanx, running, and then they plowed into a bunch of protesters in the intersection of the street and knocked them over. They came out to fight,” David said. One officer pointed a semi-automatic weapon at David’s chest, he said, and video shows another shoving him backwards as he tried to talk with the officers.

“I took a couple steps back, straightened up, and then just stood my ground right there, arms down by my side,” David recalled.

One officer began whacking at David with the baton. When he doesn’t fall or even flinch, another officer sprays him full in the face. David then retreats a few steps while making an obscene gesture.

They are thugs and goons,” David said. “I couldn’t recognize anything tactically that they were attempting to do that was even remotely related to crowd control. It looked to me like a gang of guys with sticks.”

David will need reconstructive surgery with pins and plates on his ring finger that was shattered. A bone in his hand was also broken.

He’s not going back out to protest.

“My ex-wife and my daughter would kill me if I did that. They’re so angry at me for doing it in the first place because I got beat up,” he said. “I’m not a redwood tree. I’m an overweight, 53-year-old man.”