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.
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.
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.
ST. LOUIS — When Black Lives Matter protesters marched up Kingshighway on June 28 and turned through an iron gate into the magnificent private street of Portland Place, they encountered a couple who have for years, nearly constantly, sued other people and ordered people off their property.
Personal-injury attorneys Mark and Patricia McCloskey became instant national figures when they intercepted protesters marching past their marble-faced palazzo at One Portland Place, aimed guns at them and demanded they get out.
Americans saw the story they wanted to see. Some saw respected professionals fearing for their safety, reasonably exercising their Second Amendment rights to defend their home from violent trespassers. Others saw an overwrought, older affluent couple, recklessly pointing their weapons and asserting their white privilege.
But public records and interviews reveal a fuller picture than emerged two weeks ago. They show the McCloskeys are almost always in conflict with others, typically over control of private property, what people can do on that property, and whose job it is to make sure they do it.
They filed a lawsuit in 1988 to obtain their house, a castle built for Adolphus Busch’s daughter and her husband during St. Louis’ brief run as a world-class city in the early 20th century. At the McCloskeys’ property in Franklin County, they have sued neighbors for making changes to a gravel road and twice in just over two years evicted tenants from a modular home on their property.ADVERTISING
Mark McCloskey sued a former employer for wrongful termination and his sister, father and his father’s caretaker for defamation.
The McCloskeys have filed at least two “quiet title” suits asserting squatter’s rights on land they’ve occupied openly and hostilely — their terms — and claimed as their own. In an ongoing suit against Portland Place trustees in 2017, the McCloskeys say they are entitled to a 1,143-square-foot triangle of lawn in front of property that is set aside as common ground in the neighborhood’s indenture.
It was that patch of green protesters saw when they filed through the gate. Mark McCloskey said in an affidavit that he has defended the patch before by pointing a gun at a neighbor who had tried to cut through it.
The McCloskeys have filed many other lawsuits. They sued a man who sold them a Maserati they claimed was supposed to come with a box of hard-to-find parts. In one trip to the courthouse in November 1996, Mark McCloskey filed two lawsuits, one against a dog breeder whom he said sold him a German shepherd without papers and the other against the Central West End Association for using a photo of their house in a brochure for a house tour after the McCloskeys had told them not to.
“I guess we were saving gas,” he would quip in a deposition in another case about why he filed two lawsuits at once.
Mark McCloskey has run off trustees trying to make repairs to the wall surrounding his property, insisting that he and his wife own it. In 2013, he destroyed bee hives placed just outside of the mansion’s northern wall by the neighboring Jewish Central Reform Congregation and left a note saying he did it, and if the mess wasn’t cleaned up quickly he would seek a restraining order and attorneys fees. The congregation had planned to harvest the honey and pick apples from trees on its property for Rosh Hashanah.
“The children were crying in school,” Rabbi Susan Talve said. “It was part of our curriculum.”
Moreover, the McCloskeys have constantly sought to force their neighborhood trustees to maintain the exclusivity of Portland Place, accusing them of selectively enforcing the written rules for living in the neighborhood, known as the trust agreement.
They filed a lawsuit in St. Louis circuit court to try to force the trustees to enforce the neighborhood rules as written. The McCloskeys dismissed the claim, but the judge would not let them refile an amended version because it “failed to allege a justiciable controversy.”
The McCloskeys appealed all the way to the state Supreme Court to try to make the judge allow them to refile their case, but the effort failed.
One of the rules prohibited unmarried people from living together. Several neighbors said it was because the McCloskeys didn’t want gay couples living on the block. The trustees voted to impeach Patricia McCloskey as a trustee in 1992 when she fought an effort to change the trust indenture, accusing her of being anti-gay.
Mark McCloskey clarified in a deposition much later that the trust agreement barred unmarried people living together, regardless of their sexuality.
“Certain people on Portland Place, for political reasons, wanted to make it a gay issue,” he said.
The former Portland Place trustee who was ordered off the trustee property said he had nothing good to say about the couple. “They’ve always been part of the problem, never part of the solution,” Robert Dolgin said.
Albert Watkins, a lawyer representing the couple, questioned the relevance of any story delving into the McCloskeys’ litigation history and asked the newspaper to submit written questions. The Post-Dispatch sent questions; Watkins didn’t answer them. Watkins invited a reporter to come to his office to view a document in which McCloskey discussed his litigation history but said a reporter could not have a copy nor take notes from it. Watkins later declined to allow a reporter to interview his clients under the newspaper’s condition that the interview be recorded.
Ownership and entitlement
By filing so many lawsuits, the McCloskeys opened a large window onto their values and ambitions. Their lawsuits center on obtaining land, keeping people off of it, and forcing people to follow rules or make good on agreements. Sometimes the suits are about collecting damages for harm done to them.
Mark McCloskey’s first taste of ownership may have been on his 20th birthday, in 1976. A card from his parents, Bruce and Lois “Carol” McCloskey, would much later become an exhibit in a lawsuit against his father and his father’s trust.
The card said: “You are now the sole & only owner of 5 acres of the Phelps County Farm. Papers to follow. This is on the river — Luck! Happy Birthday! Mom + Dad.”
He also got a small box of earth from the family’s 240-acre property to make it official.
His parents divorced in 1985. Bruce McCloskey never filed proper documents with Phelps County to transfer the title. When Mark McCloskey inquired with the Phelps County assessor in 1997, he got a letter indicating that what his father had filed was “not a legal conveyance of land.”
Mark McCloskey would not let real estate slip through his fingers again.
In a May 2019 deposition in his ongoing lawsuit against Portland Place trustees, he explained how he and his wife came to own their home: through a lawsuit.
The couple met when they were at Southern Methodist University law school. After graduating in 1985, his first job was with a law firm in Dallas. They moved back to St. Louis in 1986. He got a job at Thompson Mitchell, now known as Thompson Coburn.
He testified his mother obtained his childhood home in Country Life Acres in the divorce. He and his wife acquired it from her when she couldn’t afford to take care of it.
“When we first moved up to town, I drove Pattie through Portland and Westmoreland, and I said, ‘You know, any time you’d like to, we can flip the country house out at Country Life Acres and buy a big townhouse here,’” he testified. “And she said, ‘OK, let’s do it now.’”
Mark McCloskey said his tax lawyer at the Lewis Rice law firm told him One Portland Place had just been sold. “I said, ‘I don’t think it’s been sold. I would have heard about it.’”
The mansion had fallen into disrepair. The prior owner had heated it by using 48 kerosene heaters, according to a 2018 St. Louis Magazine feature that profiled the McCloskeys’ long and expensive restoration.
McCloskey testified they bid on the house and signed a deal that would give them “right of last look” at any other contracts. He got a call indicating they could buy the house if they got the cash together by the next morning, but then found out Lewis Rice had arranged to sell it to someone else.
“I get to my office at about 4 o’clock in the morning. Pattie and I draft a lawsuit and file it when the courthouse opens, the (temporary restraining order) to prevent the sale. We set up a table at wherever Lewis and Rice was in those days and served every partner on the way in and served the president of Boatmen’s Bank when he went to work the next day.”
They ended up settling with the other buyer for an undisclosed amount and bought One Portland Place for $595,000, according to city property records.
The afternoon he sued Lewis Rice, he said, he got called into the managing partner’s office at Thompson Mitchell. The partners were not happy he had sued Lewis Rice.
“He said, ‘We’re going to ask for your resignation,’” McCloskey recalled.
He filed a lawsuit against Thompson Mitchell for wrongful termination. One of the partners was Thomas Eagleton, a Democrat who had just returned to St. Louis after three terms in the U.S. Senate.
“I figured I’d sue him first,” McCloskey testified. “I thought it would be fun.”
But he said the courts “didn’t think much” of his claim. He dismissed the suit against Thompson Mitchell in 1990. A judge dismissed the Lewis Rice suit the following year for lack of prosecution.
The couple’s possession of their mansion was “a fun story,” he testified. “I tell it frequently, usually with … a little more detail and more humor.”
Mark McCloskey’s relationship with his family deteriorated. He would claim years later that his father, starting in 1989, “became obsessed” with the idea that his son had become wealthy by “swindling” the assets his mother got in the divorce. He says the idea was put there by his sister, Patricia Richards, of Virginia.
In 1994, Mark McCloskey wrote a letter to his father about his “niggardly attitude” toward the 5 acres in Phelps County he had promised in the birthday card.
“The property is essentially worthless, it just struck me as bizarre that you would deny the existence of such a gift …,” he wrote. “I spent several months of my life living out of a tent and building a log cabin there.”
His father largely wrote him out of the will in 2008, sparking a family feud that would last eight years.
In March 2013, in Phelps County, Mark McCloskey sued his father and his father’s trust over the gift. The birthday card and earth, he claimed, were sufficient title because they met the legal definition of “livery of seisin,” a ceremony performed in medieval England for the conveyance of land.
In 2016, a special judge ruled against him, writing that “Exhibit 1 attached to the petition is a birthday card, not a deed” and that it was too late to claim ownership of part of the farm. The archaic legal claim, the judge ruled “does not operate as a matter of law to transfer title to real property.”
Mark McCloskey filed a defamation case against his father and sister in 2011, dismissed it in 2012, and refiled it in 2013. By the time of the final filing, Bruce McCloskey was living in a memory care unit in Ballwin; he died in 2014.
Mark McCloskey said his sister had spread rumors that he had held their mother hostage on Portland Place, denied her medical care, made her sleep on an iron cot soaked in urine, and plied her with alcohol until she died. He also said she claimed he was connected to organized crime, had tried to arrange for a contract killing of his sister, and had stolen 42 pounds of gold from his father.
He claimed his elderly father believed these things because he had lost his faculties, and repeated the falsehoods in public, damaging his reputation. He claimed the will was based on “insane delusions” and his sister’s undue influence.
Patricia Richards declined to comment.
He made similar allegations against his father’s longtime caretaker in a separate defamation suit, which he later dismissed.
Weeks after Bruce McCloskey’s death, Patricia McCloskey sent a letter to the law firm handling his estate stating that any attempt to distribute the inheritance would likely be challenged in court.
Mark McCloskey dismissed the defamation case, but he sued his sister and his two brothers and their father’s trust again in 2016, accusing all of them of “tortious interference” for pressing their father to cut him out of an inheritance.
The siblings settled with their father’s trust paying Mark McCloskey $400,000, with all of them agreeing to drop all claims and never have contact with Mark McCloskey again.
Trouble on Portland
The lawsuit between the McCloskeys and the Portland trustees was the latest flare-up in a fight that has been going on almost since they moved in.
In 2002, the Portland Place Association sued to foreclose on the McCloskeys’ house because they were refusing to pay dues. Mark McCloskey would later say in a deposition that he and his wife had refused because the trustees “weren’t doing something, which was their obligation under the Trust Agreement.”
The lawyer questioning him asked: Was it possible the issue was the trustees were allowing a gay couple to live there?
Mark McCloskey said he didn’t know. “I know there has been an ongoing issue about the definition of single family in Missouri law, and that the (agreement) calling for exclusively single family residences wouldn’t allow, technically, unmarried heterosexual people to live on Portland Place. … I know that certain people on Portland Place, for political purposes, wanted to make it a gay issue.”
While taking a deposition of Portland Place trustee Daniel Ladenberger on Jan. 17, 2019, Mark McCloskey insisted it wasn’t up to trustees to decide what rules to enforce. Rules can’t be changed without 75% of the voters approving, he said.
“Do you recognize that part of the duty of a trustee is to protect the rights of the minority; to enforce the trust agreement even if a majority but less than 75% of the people would like to do away with those provisions … even if it’s only 26% of the people who wish to have a provision enforced?”
After the McCloskeys bought their home on Portland Place, they built a 10-foot wall closing it off from Kingshighway, replacing a wall that would have allowed people to come through. In 2004, Dolgin wrote the McCloskeys a letter noting it had come to the trustees’ attention that the McCloskeys had hired a contractor to do tuck pointing on the wall.
“No individual resident is authorized to do work on Portland Place property without the permission of the trustees,” Dolgin wrote.
Mark McCloskey responded that he would no more ask permission to perform work on the wall than he would on his house. “Before you glibly throw around such statements in the future, produce some authority to verify it or be prepared to spend Portland Place Association money in defending a suit for slander of title. This isn’t a game, and we aren’t children.”
Watkins, the lawyer representing the couple, is a friend of theirs and former neighbor who sued the Portland Place trustees in 2010 with a claim that he had tried to get them to take down a sick oak tree which later fell and damaged his property. Watkins lost and was ordered to pay the trustees court costs of $52,000.
A rocky road
The McCloskeys own a large property in Franklin County and have had conflicts with neighbors who access their homes by a gravel road cutting across the McCloskeys’ acreage.
In 2013, Mark McCloskey saw a gravel truck on the road preparing to “grade and ditch” the road, and the couple, without notice to their neighbors, sought and obtained a temporary restraining order against them in Franklin County circuit court.
One of the defendants produced records of an easement indicating they could use the road. A legal battle dragged on for nearly two years, with one of the neighbors racking up $70,000 in legal bills and $9,000 in surveying costs.
That neighbor asked for sanctions against the McCloskeys for “committing a fraud” with their claim. The case settled with all parties paying their own costs.
In 2019, the McCloskeys sued another neighbor with a squatter’s rights claim to 0.41 acres that were fenced off incorrectly and had been maintained by McCloskey and previous owners even though they did not have a legal title to it.
“The Parcel has been continuously possessed by the Plaintiffs and their predecessors in title for a period far in excess of 10 years and such possession has been, in fact, hostile, actual, open and notorious, exclusive, and continuous,” the McCloskeys claimed. The suit is pending.
The McCloskeys also evicted two tenants from a modular home on their property in a period of just over two years. The first, a single woman with three children and her boyfriend, had lived there six months in January 2018 when the McCloskeys filed for eviction, claiming one rent check had bounced. The woman moved out and did not appear in court, and the McCloskeys got a $6,247 default judgment against the couple, which included attorneys fees and rent for the remaining months of the lease.
In an interview with the Post-Dispatch, the tenant denied she had missed a rent payment. She said she had showed up in court for the eviction hearing and that Mark McCloskey told her she had no chance of winning, so she left. She said she had no idea she owed them that much.
The second tenant signed a lease for $950 per month last November, and failed to pay rent in April and May. The McCloskeys filed an eviction suit on May 12 and Mark McCloskey filed an affidavit stating that he was not barred by federal law from evicting someone during the COVID-19 pandemic because the unit was not part of a federal housing rental program.
The tenant did not appear in court. A judge gave her until July 1 to clear out, and the McCloskeys got an $8,299 judgment against her for attorneys fees and the remainder of the lease.
A ruined life
While that tenant was clearing out, the McCloskeys had their encounter with protesters. “My life has been ruined,” Mark McCloskey told CNN host Chris Cuomo two days later, as he defended his actions.
On June 28, about 200 protesters filled the Maryland-Kingshighway intersection, chanting, “This is what community looks like … this is what democracy looks like.”
The group moved south to Lindell Boulevard and filled the intersection for several more minutes. “If we don’t get it, shut it down!”
The protest moved north on Kingshighway again. At Portland Place, protester Derk Brown’s live feed shows he is one of the first protesters to pass through the iron gate held open by protester Tory Russell.
Although the McCloskeys have displayed photos of a crumpled gate as evidence the protesters broke it down, the feed shows the gate is intact. It was not clear when it was damaged.
The first few protesters who enter the private neighborhood swerve away from the McCloskey house to walk in the street.
Immediately, Brown’s feed captures Mark McCloskey under a massive portico on the east side of his mansion. “Hey!” he can be heard shouting. “Private neighborhood! Get the hell out of my neighborhood!”
None of the protesters are on his property — even the disputed triangle.
Brown zooms in on McCloskey, who is wearing a pink Brooks Brothers polo shirt, and narrates: “Y’all see? On my live feed … he got his rifle.”
Mark McCloskey shouts, “Get out! Get out! Get out! Private property!”
A chant builds: “Whose streets? Our streets!”
Moments later, Patricia McCloskey can be seen in her front yard in her bare feet with a silver handgun, waving it at the protesters.
“We’re gonna move, calm down!” someone yells.
“Put that gun away,” someone else yells.
She comes closer to Brown, pointing the gun left and right. “Go!” she yells. “Go!”
One of the protesters yells, “We got kids in here! We got children!”
A chant builds: “Eat the rich!” She keeps pointing the gun.
“Why are you threatening?” someone asks.
“You need to calm down!” someone else says.
“Put your goddamn gun down!” someone yells.
“You’re a coward, bitch!” a woman yells.
“Nobody wants to hurt you,” another woman yells.
About 13 minutes go by with the McCloskeys on their front lawn in bare feet and protesters mocking them or asking them why they are threatening them with weapons.
The protest moves on to its destination: Mayor Lyda Krewson’s house.
Patricia McCloskey would later tell Fox News host Sean Hannity that protesters said “they were going to kill us … going to burn down the house, that they were going to be living in our house after I was dead. They pointed to different rooms and said that’s gonna be my bedroom, that’s gonna to be the living room and I’m gonna be taking a shower in that room ….”
Mark McCloskey said the flyer for the “riot” suggested that in addition to marching to Krewson’s house, marchers were planning “a special surprise — something extra.”
“That something extra was us,” Mark McCloskey said.
“ST. LOUIS — A white couple who stood outside their St. Louis mansion and pointed guns at protesters who were marching toward the mayor’s home to demand her resignation support the Black Lives Matter movement and don’t want to become heroes to those who oppose the cause, their attorney said Monday. Video posted online showed Mark McCloskey, 63, and his 61-year-old wife, Patricia, standing outside their Renaissance palazzo-style home Sunday night in the city’s well-to-do Central West End neighborhood. He could be heard yelling while holding a long-barreled gun. His wife stood next to him with a handgun.”
Omar Wasow, assistant professor of politics at Princeton, joins hosts Katie Halper and Matt Taibbi to discuss his paper on protest tactics and ‘Agenda Seeding,’ and the polarized reaction it’s received.
Despite claims by President Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr, there is scant evidence that loosely organized anti-fascists are a significant player in protests.
Inciting a riot. Hurling a Molotov cocktail. Plotting to sow destruction. Those are some of the most serious charges brought by federal prosectors against demonstrators at protests across the country in recent weeks.
But despite cries from President Trump and others in his administration, none of those charged with serious federal crimes amid the unrest have been linked so far to the loose collective of anti-fascist activists known as antifa.
A review of the arrests of dozens of people on federal charges reveals no known effort by antifa to perpetrate a coordinated campaign of violence. Some criminal complaints described vague, anti-government political leanings among suspects, but the majority of the violent acts that have taken place at protests have been attributed by federal prosecutors to individuals with no affiliation to any particular group.
Even so, Attorney General William P. Barr has blamed antifa for orchestrating the mass protests, which broke out in cities and towns across the country following the death in police custody of George Floyd. “There is clearly some high degree of organization involved at some of these events and coordinated tactics that we are seeing,” Mr. Barr said. “Some of it relates to antifa, some of it relates to groups that act very much like antifa.”
Mr. Trump has sought to expand and exploit accusations against what he has called the involvement of “radical leftists” in the protests. At one point the president said that antifa would be declared a “terrorist organization,” although it is not a single organization nor does any American law allow using that designation against a domestic group. On Tuesday, the president suggested on Twitter, without providing any evidence, that a 75-year-old Buffalo protester hospitalized after being knocked down by police, could be “an ANTIFA provocateur.”
Mr. Trump and other Republicans have also sought to raise campaign funds off the unsubstantiated accusations. “Stand with President Trump against antifa!” read a banner advertisement on Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign website this week.
Marjorie Green, a congressional candidate in Georgia, produced a campaign ad showing her armed with an AR-15 military-style rifle and threatening antifa activists. “You won’t burn our churches, loot our businesses or destroy our homes,” she said.
Asked why the myriad criminal complaints do not single out antifa, Mr. Barr said on Fox News this week that preliminary charges do not require linking suspects to a particular group, adding that there was, “a witches’ brew of extremist groups that are trying to exploit this situation on all sides.”
F.B.I. agents and federal prosecutors have pursued charges aggressively against rioters, looters and others accused of wreaking havoc during the demonstrations. Law enforcement officials have relied on a variety of federal statutes to make arrests, including conspiracy to commit arson, starting a riot, civil disorder and possession of a Molotov cocktail.
The most serious case that has emerged in federal court involved three men in Nevada linked to a loose, national network of far-right extremists advocating for the overthrow of the U.S. government. They were arrested on May 30 on charges of trying to foment violence during Black Lives Matter protests.
Given the sheer volume of thousands of arrests nationwide in recent weeks, officials cautioned that many investigations remain in the early stages with investigators still trying to determine affiliations. In addition, state and local court documents are far harder to search comprehensively.
However, interviews with several major local police departments and a review of hundreds of newspaper stories about arrests around the country revealed no evidence of an organized political effort behind the looting and other violence.
“We saw no organized effort of antifa here in Los Angeles,” said Josh Rubenstein, the spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department.
Asked in an interview about the involvement of antifa or other extremists groups in Minneapolis, Medaria Arradondo, the chief of police, said, “As I sit here today, I have not received any sort of official information identifying any of the groups.”
In the one example where antifa is mentioned, local police in Austin, Texas, said members of the Red Guards, a Maoist organization, were involved in organizing the looting of a Target store. The Red Guards have been associated with antifa protests in Austin in the past, but local activists said they were largely estranged from the group.
While anarchists and anti-fascists openly acknowledged being part of the massive crowds, they call the scale, intensity and durability of the protests far beyond anything that they might dream of organizing. Some tactics used at the protests, like the wearing of all black and the shattering of store windows, are reminiscent of those used by anarchist groups, say those who study such movements.
In Portland, those affiliated with Rose City Antifa said they have supported the continuing protests. But the city’s antifa actions have long involved a wide range of people, some who dress in black apparel and face coverings and others who show up in everyday clothing to decry far-right extremists and police militarization. There has also been various far-left activities in Seattle, including people who have spray-painted anarchist symbols on public property.
Antifa has roots in the Occupy Wall Street protests of a decade ago and the demonstrations against the World Trade Organization in the 1990s. During Mr. Trump’s inauguration, antifa activists marched in Washington vandalizing businesses and at one point setting fire to a limousine.
Over the next several months, its followers disrupted events hosted by right-wing speakers like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulous. When the far right fought back, organizing its own public protests, anti-fascist activists met them on the streets in what often turned into violent confrontations, culminating in the bloody rally in 2017 in Charlottesville, Va.
Anarchists and others accuse officials of trying to assign blame to extremists rather than accept the idea that millions of Americans from a variety of political backgrounds have been on the streets demanding change. Numerous experts called the participation of extremist organizations overstated, as well.
“A significant number of people in positions of authority are pushing a false narrative about antifa being behind a lot of this activity,” said J.M. Berger, the author of the book “Extremism,” and an authority on militant movements. “These are just unbelievably large protests at a time of great turmoil in this country, and there is surprisingly little violence given the size of this movement.”
In July 2019, Christopher Wray, the F.B.I. director, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the agency “considers antifa more of an ideology than an organization.”
In Las Vegas, the complaint filed in U.S. District Court said the three suspects called themselves members of the “boogaloo,” which is described as a far-right movement “to signify a coming civil war and/or fall of civilization.”
At an initial protest, the three strapped on bulletproof vests, grabbed their rifles and waded into the crowd, hoping to provoke clashes between protesters and the police, according to court papers. One taunted police officers, yelling in their faces, while a second chided protesters “that peaceful protests don’t accomplish anything and they needed to be violent,” the complaint said.
When that failed, they plotted to blow up an electric substation along the route of the demonstration in the hope that would prompt more violence between police and protesters, according to the complaint. They were arrested after preparing Molotov cocktails from gasoline and lemonade bottles before a march.
Robert M. Drascovich Jr., an attorney for one of the accused, Stephen T. Parshall, 35, said his client denied all the charges.
Individuals associated with the boogaloo movement have been out in force at countless demonstrations in the past few years, clad in their distinctive combat dress and armed with rifles. They often claim that they appear armed in public to underscore their commitment to Second Amendment rights, or to protect local businesses.
But online, boogaloo discussion groups overflow with racist statements and threats to exploit any unrest to spark a race war that will bring about a new government system.
In Denver, police seized a small arsenal including three assault rifles, numerous magazines, several bullet proof vests and other military paraphernalia from the car trunk of a self-professed “boogaloo” adherent headed toward a protest, a man who had previously live-streamed his own support for armed confrontations with police.
After a demonstration in Athens, Ga., on May 31 ended with the National Guard being called in and tear gas fired to clear protesters away from the gates of University of Georgia, Chief Cleveland L. Spruill wrote a lengthy memo spelling out his concerns around extremist involvement in the protests.
Given the volatile mix of protesters, including armed men, he said, he feared a repeat of Charlottesville. Some participants called such fears overblown given the overall peaceful tenor of the protest.
In New York, police briefed reporters on May 31, claiming that radical anarchists from out of state had plotted ahead of the protests by setting up encrypted communications systems, arranging for street medics and collecting bail funds.
Within five days, however, Dermot F. Shea, the city’s police commissioner, acknowledged that most of the hundreds of people arrested at the protests in New York were actually New Yorkers who took advantage of the chaos to commit crimes and were not motivated by political ideology. John Miller, the police official who had briefed reporters, told CNN that most looting in New York had been committed by “regular criminal groups.”
In Austin, Texas, court documents said several members of the Red Guards participated in burglarizing a Target store, including a woman who streamed the event on Facebook Live, encouraging people to come “even if you do not want to loot,” one affidavit said.
Although the court documents identified the Red Guards as part of the city’s anti-fascist umbrella organization, several Austin activists described the group as either defunct or estranged from one another because of their penchant for troubling acts like laying a dead cat on the doorstep of a business involved in a gentrification dispute.
Kit O’Connell, a longtime radical leftist activist and community organizer in Austin, said that shortly after Mr. Trump’s election, the group took part in anti-fascist protests in the city against a local white supremacist group and scuffled separately with Act for America, an anti-Muslim organization.
“They’ve been an influence at the protests but they’re not in charge — no one’s really in charge,” Mr. O’Connell said.
Carl Guthrie, a lawyer for Samuel Miller, one of those charged with burglary, denied that his client had any connection to the Red Guards. He called such accusations “a transparent, incendiary attempt to distract from the problems plaguing our society — systemic racism and state-sponsored murder.”
Experts on extremism said the few suspects arrested with overt political goals fall under the broad category of “accelerationists,” groups that hope to exploit any public unrest to further their own anti-government goals.
We’re entering the era when the new violently replaces the old.
Neil Howe, demographer and co-authour of the book The Fourth Turning, returns to the podcast this week. In our prior interviews with him, we’ve explored his study of generational cycles (“turnings”) in America which reveal predictable social trends that recur throughout history and invariably result in transformational crisis (a “fourth turning”).
Fourth turnings are characterized by a growing demand for social order, yet supply of it remains weak. The emergence of the surveillance state, a perpetual war machine, increased intervention in failing markets by the central planners, greater government control of critical systems like health care and the Internet — all of these are classic fourth turning signs of the desperation authorities exert as they lose control.
History shows time and time again that such overreach ends in rejection of the current order, usually via violent revolution.
Now that we’re roughly halfway through the current Fourth Turning and things have really started to unravel here in 2020, we’ve asked Neil back on the program to update us on what to expect next.