Trump, Democrats wrangle over who will put down the protests

Protesters near the federal courthouse in Portland.


On July 29, Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced that the state and federal governments had come to an agreement on a plan to withdraw federal troops that have been policing protests in Portland. These forces include a mix of agencies, most ignobly the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its subsidiary, the Customs and Border Patrol.

Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the DHS, pushed back on Brown’s assertion that his agency would end its “augmented” presence starting on Thursday. Wolf insisted that any withdrawal would be gradual, and that DHS personnel would continue to police the city until there is an “influx” of local and state law enforcement into downtown Portland. Trump also talked tough on July 29, when he announced that the Feds “were not leaving until they [local authorities] have secured their city.” He said that he told the mayor and governor that “if they don’t secure their city soon, we’ll have no choice. We’re going to have to go in and clean it out … and get rid of the agitators and anarchists.”

As of Friday, July 31, DHS agents appear to have been drawn back from policing the protests. Oregon state police took their place on Thursday night, but were not nearly as confrontational against protesters as the federal forces had been.

Electoral violence

The escalation of the federal presence in repressing the ongoing mass movement for racial justice is at least partially the result of the quadrennial faction fight within the ruling class known as the presidential elections. Both parties are attempting to be the group that shows capitalists they are the ones who can most successfully defang the movement and get protesters off the streets.

Most of the violence used against protesters has been by state and local police called in by Democratic Party mayors and governors. Over 10,000 protesters have been arrested in New York City, and vicious attacks on demonstrations, reporters, and medics have occurred in Democratic Party strongholds—including Detroit, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

Trump and the Republicans have been attempting to edge in on the suppression to project “strength” and “law and order” by mobilizing federal forces including the military, National Guard, and now federal police agencies and paramilitaries. While this has succeeded in exciting Trump’s base, the move toward overt nationally coordinated repression has proven to be profoundly unpopular in the eyes of working and oppressed people. It was as a reflection of that fact that DHS agents and others were removed from the streets of Seattle and Portland on Wednesday and Thursday respectively.

Convergence of interests

Now that it has become relatively clear that Trump does not have the political ability to take the violent repression of street demonstrations out of the hands of the state and local governments, the federal government and city and state authorities are back to cooperating as usual. Although the movement for racial justice has secured a real victory in forcing the expulsion of federal forces from Portland and Seattle, the ruling class is regrouping the alliance between the different factions and levels of government.

All over the country, federal agents are expanding their work with local law enforcement under the aegis of Operation Legend, which is mobilizing at least 100 FBI, DEA, and officers from other departments to Detroit, Milwaukee, and Cleveland. Mayors in these cities are welcoming the “help” for suppressing the Black and Brown populations there.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is not only welcoming in over 150 federal agents under this program but is also opening up the Windy City as a training ground for ICE’s upcoming “Citizens Academy.” The latter is a program meant to begin paving the way for deputizing people into the ranks of anti-immigrant action.

In a show of force, even the tactic of public abductions in unmarked vans has been taken up by Democrat-controlled police departments. On July 28, well after liberal politicians and pundits had raised their half-hearted denouncements of the actions by the Feds in Portland, plainclothes police in New York City forcibly detained Nikki Stone, a transgender activist at a protest demonstration. Democratic Party Mayor Bill DeBlasio, a darling of many liberals, simply said that the officers should have carried out the arrest less publicly.

Workers’ solution to repression

Instead of putting any faith in capitalist politicians to restore the “rule of law,” activists must strike out on their own to stop police repression. The people of Portland have set a heroic example in answering the violence of the state with larger and larger mobilizations, encompassing mothers, military veterans, and untold thousands of others.

While the Democratic Party maneuvers to have government repression on their terms, the movement in the street is breaking with them in action if not yet in deed. The next step is to make that break complete and form a political party based in the organizations of workers and oppressed people that has no interest in making concessions with capitalism on our basic democratic rights.

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