U.S. Government & governance Law & Order 2020

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‘The Whole of Liberal Democracy Is in Grave Danger at This Moment’
Trump’s America has accelerated “the authoritarian dynamic.” 22 July

Trump has set a hidden trap for Biden. It could do great damage.
Greg Sargent
(WaPo) Biden vowed to “restore the soul of the nation” as president, meaning he won’t use the power and influence of the office to carry out a white nationalist agenda or to lend support to right-wing extremists and white supremacists, instead “uniting” the country.
But what does all this mean in practice? It means many things, from purging immigration policy of naked bigotry to rolling out an agenda that takes systemic racism seriously to having a president who doesn’t actively encourage police and even vigilante violence.
But one of the most thorny problems Biden faces will be how to reverse the failures of the previous administration when it comes specifically to violent domestic extremism and white supremacy.
This is a complicated challenge that will entail action on many fronts. They include a look at whether federal law needs to be revamped to treat white nationalist and white supremacist mass killings as a form of domestic terrorism.
Another imperative, as former National Security Council official Joshua Geltzer points out, will be to take seriously the transnational nature of global white nationalist and white supremacist groups and ideologies. Numerous recent domestic mass shootings were inspired by white supremacist mass murderers abroad, and social media has created transnational networks espousing white supremacist violence.
All this would require determining whether this sort of law enforcement activity can be done — and this is absolutely crucial — without violating civil liberties. Only the pursuit of political aims through violent means should be the focus, and all violent ideologies must be targeted. Civil libertarian groups must be fully included in discussions of any legal reorientations.

7 November
Goodbye, Bill Barr
(Slate) In just two years, Attorney General William Barr transformed the Department of Justice into a sleazy, third-rate law firm devoted to shielding Donald Trump and his friends from the consequences of their crimes. A coterie of attorneys with prestigious law degrees and sterling résumés joined Barr’s crusade to place Trump above the law. The attorney general’s tenure played out as a natural experiment: What happens when the embodiment of the right-wing Federalist Society becomes the nation’s chief law enforcement officer? The answer has been a ghastly disaster for the rule of law.
Now that Trump has lost reelection, Barr will soon step down. His departure will not undo the immense damage that he inflicted upon the Justice Department, which is supposed to enforce federal law fairly, impartially, and independently from the president’s whims. He has turned the principle of prosecutorial independence into a farce. It will take years to persuade Americans that the attorney general is anything more than a glorified bag man for the president.

15 October
The Growing Threat of American Political Violence
By David Rohde
(The New Yorker) Since the attacks in Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, El Paso, and other cities, the debate over how to respond to domestic terrorism has intensified. But both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, remain leery of giving federal law-enforcement officials the enormous political power that comes with being able to declare an individual a “terrorist.” They cite the Bureau’s history of illegally surveilling, harassing, and profiling political, racial, and religious groups, from Black civil-rights organizations to the John Birch Society to Muslim Americans. Opponents also point out that some protest groups on the left and the right, such as Greenpeace and organizations that oppose abortion, intentionally break the law during demonstrations. Critics say that making domestic terrorism a federal crime is both unnecessary and a recipe for suppressing dissent.
Earlier this year, Christopher Wray, the director of the F.B.I, announced that the Bureau had more than a thousand investigations into violent extremism under way in all fifty states. In testimony to Congress in September, he warned that the perception of government overreach, racism, and other dynamics fuelling domestic violent extremism—D.V.E., in Bureau parlance—“remain constant.” He noted, “More deaths were caused by D.V.E.s than international terrorists in recent years. In fact, 2019 was the deadliest year for domestic extremist violence since the Oklahoma City bombing, in 1995.” (Wray was referring to an attack on a federal building that killed a hundred and sixty-eight people, one of the deadliest acts of domestic terrorism in American history.)

14 October
On multiple fronts, Trump’s plan to exploit Justice Dept unravels
The embarrassing endpoint: Trump’s corruption of federal law enforcement isn’t producing any of the electoral gifts he sought.
(MSNBC) It’s worth emphasizing for context that the Republican incumbent has been quite explicit in recent months that he intended to use federal law enforcement to advance his political ambitions. Trump has repeatedly turned to conservative media outlets to publicly lobby the attorney general, pushing Barr to prosecute his political opponents ahead of the elections, even if that meant embracing authoritarian tactics in conflict with American traditions.
But as outrageous as it’s been to see the president try to exploit the Justice Department to maintain his grip on power, we appear to have reached an embarrassing endpoint: Trump’s corruption of federal law enforcement isn’t producing any of the electoral gifts he sought.

12 October
Plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor grew from the militia movement’s toxic mix of constitutional falsehoods and half-truths
John E. Finn, Professor Emeritus of Government, Wesleyan University
(The Conversation) The U.S. militia movement has long been steeped in a peculiar – and unquestionably mistaken – interpretation of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and civil liberties.
The Constitution addresses militias in Article 1, authorizing Congress to “provide for organizing, arming and disciplining, the Militia.”
But the Constitution makes no provision for private militias, like the far-right Wolverine Watchmen, Proud Boys, Michigan Militia and the Oath Keepers, to name just a few.

8 October
Militia Members Plotted To Kidnap Michigan Gov. Whitmer, FBI Says
(NPR) The FBI says it has thwarted a plot by militia members to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and six people are facing federal charges. In a coordinated move, Michigan is pursuing state felony charges against seven people with ties to a militia called the Wolverine Watchmen.
Michigan has been a hot spot for disagreements over shutdowns and other restrictions Whitmer ordered in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus — actions that allegedly sparked the plot against her.
Expert: Michigan ‘a hotbed for militia activity,’ with growing potential for violence
(Detroit Free Press) Thursday, law enforcement arrested 13 people, including seven members of the Wolverine Watchman, which sparked a national conversation about domestic terrorism and the purpose of these private, loosely organized paramilitary organizations.
The extensive investigation, court documents showed, relied on confidential informants, undercover agents, recorded conversations, text messages and social media, with federal agents detailing what it called a plan to violently overthrow the government, which included a conspiracy to kidnap the governor, take her to Wisconsin and put her on trial for “treason.”

2 September
Donald Trump Came to Kenosha to Make the Most Vile Campaign Commercial in American Political History
Trump implemented his “law-and-order” strategy with a Wisconsin trip that was low on sympathy and high on campaign rhetoric.
(The Nation) Nothing about Trump’s visit had to do with healing Kenosha. … Asked if he was “implying that this is a campaign stop,” Robert Costa, the moderator of PBS’s Washington Week, said, “I’m not implying it, I’m actually just stating it. This is a stop by the president of the United States during the campaign season—in the final 60 or so days before the election.”
A campaign stop was the last thing Kenosha was calling for this week.

1 September
John Cassidy: Donald Trump’s Incitements to Violence Have Crossed an Alarming Threshold
(The New Yorker) Over the weekend, Trump cheered on a caravan of his supporters that confronted groups of Black Lives Matters demonstrators in Portland, Oregon, the site of months of ongoing protests, some of which have turned violent. In the clashes that ensued, one person—Aaron (Jay) Danielson, a supporter of the far-right group Patriot Prayer—was shot and killed. Not content with fanning the flames in Portland, Trump retweeted a message that was supportive of Kyle Rittenhouse, the seventeen-year-old Illinois teen-ager who shot three protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last week, killing two of them. Then, at a press conference on Monday, Trump defended Rittenhouse, suggesting that he had acted in self-defense.
… By cheering on the members of the Portland caravan—“GREAT PATRIOTS,” he called them on Twitter—and defending Rittenhouse, despite the fact that he has been charged with two counts of first-degree homicide, the President has crossed a threshold. Faced with the prospect of losing an election, and power, he has gone beyond mere scaremongering and resorted to fomenting violent unrest from the White House.

31 August
Trump thinks violence and chaos on the streets is good for his reelection, and he’s not trying to hide it
(Business Insider) President Donald Trump is actively working to incite violence and chaos in American cities, hoping he can carry himself to a reelection victory on a “law and order” platform.
Bloomberg: Can a leader win re-election on a law-and-order campaign to quell violence he himself is accused of stoking?
With the U.S. economy cratering during a coronavirus epidemic that has killed more than 180,000 people in the U.S., Donald Trump is trying.
The chaos the president has warned may sweep the U.S. if his Democratic rival Joe Biden wins November’s election has already arrived in Portland, Oregon and Kenosha, Wisconsin under his own watch.
What Democrats must now grapple with is that the violence could become the dominant election theme, and for Trump that may be the point

27 August
Nicholas Kristof: The Lawbreakers Trump Loves
He uses scare tactics about “law and order.” But what distinguishes this White House is its ties to criminals.
Even as President Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination on the White House lawn, lawbreakers rampaged through the capital. …sadly he ignored these blatant lawbreakers, presidential aides violating Hatch Act restrictions on political manipulation of government.
… It’s true that there has been violence and looting in some American cities, and this is a genuine challenge to order and economic recovery. But by any objective measure the bigger risk comes from right-wing extremists.
… Trump and his proxies used the G.O.P. convention to defame Democratic-run parts of America as caldrons of violence. In fact, the single state with the highest rate of violent crime is Alaska, a red state with Republican leaders. The state with the lowest violent crime is Maine, a swing state that currently has a Democratic governor.

27 August
With Wisconsin Unrest as Backdrop, Republicans Intensify Law-and-Order Message
On the third day of the convention, Vice President Mike Pence and other Republicans portrayed Democrats as tolerant of violence and riots.
(NYT) Speaking hours after Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin called in the National Guard to restore order to Kenosha, Wis., where a police officer shot a Black man this week, numerous Republicans led by Vice President Mike Pence assailed Mr. Biden for what they claimed was his tolerance of the vandalism that had grown out of racial justice protests, asserting that the country would not be safe with him as president.
Wisconsin authorities identified Kenosha police officer who shot Jacob Blake as Rusten Sheskey
(Insider) Sheskey shot Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, several times in the back as he was approaching his SUV with his three children inside.
“While holding onto Mr. Blake’s shirt, Officer Rusten Sheskey fired his service weapon seven times,” a department press release said. “Officer Sheskey fired the weapon into Mr. Blake’s back. No other officer fired their weapon.”

21 August
Trump’s suggestion of deploying law enforcement officials to monitor polls raises specter of voting intimidation
Civil rights advocates said the president’s remarks echoed historical efforts to dissuade voters of color from casting their ballots.
(WaPo) More than 30 years ago, a Republican Party program that dispatched off-duty police officers to patrol polling places in heavily Black and Latino neighborhoods in New Jersey triggered accusations of voter intimidation, resulting in a federal agreement that restricted for decades how the national GOP could observe voting.

20 August
The Republican Party has become a smash-and-grab operation
By Jennifer Rubin
President Trump’s former campaign chief (not the one arrested Thursday) Paul Manafort was convicted of multiple felonies, as was Trump’s former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, his former lawyer Michael Cohen, his former fix-it man Roger Stone and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump, according to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, engaged in at least 10 categories of conduct that contain elements of the crime of obstruction of justice. The Senate Intelligence Committee believes that Trump lied in written answers given under oath about his discussion of WikiLeaks with Stone. The Manhattan district attorney (who won a big victory on Thursday regarding Trump’s objections to a subpoena) is investigating Trump for financial crimes.
Given that the right wing has become a coven of crooks and con men, it was not a surprise at all when former Trump campaign chief Stephen K. Bannon was arrested Thursday on a boat (by officials from the U.S. Postal Service, which sounds like an over-the-top plot point in a bad movie) on suspicion of bilking people out of money for a private build-the-wall scam. (Trump’s fear-mongering that we needed a border wall, constant lying about how much has been built and snatching money from the Pentagon to fund part of it are not criminal acts. But they are evidence of the disdain with which the right wing and the Republican Party specifically hold their fellow Americans who have bought into the xenophobic tripe the far-right peddles.)
Paul Waldman: Bannon’s indictment confirms that the American right is made up of con artists
If you thought Stephen K. Bannon was going to end up in handcuffs, you might have predicted that it wouldn’t be for a small-time con. After all, Bannon went from running a far-right online publication to the heights of U.S. conservatism, first as CEO of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign and then as “chief strategist” in the White House. He even had ambitions to take his political project global. But it turns out that the scheme that Bannon has just been criminally charged with is indeed a species of penny-ante grift. Yet it’s the sort of grift the American right has been running on its own voters for decades, which makes this absolutely fitting:

29 July
Trump administration and Oregon governor reach agreement on deescalation of Portland protests
As part of the agreement, officials said most Department of Homeland Security agents would move away from what have become the front lines around the courthouse and then withdraw from Portland entirely if the nightly rioting ceases.
But the specific timing of how this would play out remained unclear. Gov. Kate Brown (D) said the agents would leave downtown Thursday and the city soon thereafter, while acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf said that federal officials would pull back from Portland “should circumstances on the ground significantly improve” as state troopers move to protect the courthouse.

28 July
The Hijacking of Homeland Security
A former leader of the department says Trump is politicizing the agency and putting the nation at risk.
By Michael Chertoff
(NYT Opinion) The Trump administration’s deliberate decision to intervene in the Portland protests with a heavy hand, unconventional means and inflammatory political rhetoric has contributed to growing public distrust — particularly of the Department of Homeland Security.
Critics of the department are now rightly worried that its law enforcement agents might be increasingly deployed by President Trump to score political points, or even interfere with the November election.
These actions, now or into the future, endanger our democracy, and undermine the nation’s safety — by hurting the department’s ability to carry out its core mission of protecting Americans from genuine threats to our security.
Homeland Security was created after the Sept. 11 terror attacks with the goal of unifying the government’s efforts to combat emerging security threats. Over the years, these threats have grown to include not only international and domestic terrorism, but also natural disasters, pandemics and cyberattacks.

27 July
Trump Wanted His Portland Policy to Backfire — But Not Like This

(New York) Late last month, as the COVID-19 crisis was knocking down the president’s poll numbers — and protestors were knocking down statues of slaveholders — Trump prepared an executive order empowering the Department of Homeland Security to protect federal monuments from “ left-wing extremists.” Ostensibly, this was intended to quell disorder in American cities. In reality, its aim was closer to the opposite. According to Trump campaign officials who spoke with the Washington Post last week, Trump “sought to frame and create a culture war.” Alas, by the time the president issued his declaration, the George Floyd protests had begun to die down. So, the “law and order” president hatched a plan to make America lawless and disorderly again.
If you were a historically unpopular Republican president who wanted to quell civil unrest in an overwhelmingly left-wing city, sending federal agents into the streets of that city without the permission of state or municipal officials — and then having those agents abduct protesters in unmarked vans — would be a very bad way to do it. If you were a historically unpopular Republican president who wanted to promote civil unrest, however, it would be a very sound policy.

21 July
James Comey: Is televised conflict Trump’s goal?
Federal officials are giving a small group of violent people what they want, writes James B. Comey, a former director of the FBI and former deputy attorney general. “And they are giving the citizens of Portland — and the rest of us, no matter our politics — what we don’t want: the specter of unconstrained and anonymous force from a central government authority.
(WaPo) Each day brings more images of dark-green-clad, helmeted figures striking and spraying unarmed protesters on the streets of Portland, Ore. The figures are federal officers, rejected by local leaders and embraced by President Trump, who speaks of spreading that federal presence to other troubled cities.
The idea of a shadowy, uninvited federal force is troubling, but it is not clear that federal officers in Portland are acting unlawfully. Federal and Oregon laws appear to offer wide latitude to make arrests and forgo identifying insignia in service of their mission to protect federal property, including courthouses. Maybe that should change, but current law appears to give them a lot of room.
What is clear is that they are acting stupidly, a mistake they may be about to repeat in other places, with lasting consequences for federal law enforcement.
Trump says he is sending ‘hundreds’ of federal law enforcement officers to Chicago
(NBC) The president continues to paint cities run by Democrats as out of control and poorly managed.
The federal crackdown in Portland is ‘legal.’ That’s the problem with it.
Department of Homeland Security officials are following the letter of the law — and flagrantly abusing its spirit.
By Garrett M. Graff, a former editor of Politico magazine and the author of “Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself—While the Rest of Us Die.”
(WaPo) When Americans worried about their nation veering toward dystopian authoritarianism, no one ever expected those nightmares to involve the Federal Protective Service. That’s in part because, before the post-apocalyptic images of officers in military gear waving flaming cans of smoke and wearing gas masks on the streets of Portland, Ore., few Americans knew the FPS existed at all. Yet the force — which languished for years within the Department of Homeland Security, with depleted ranks and a dwindling budget — has suddenly become central to the Trump administration’s plan to assert federal power in America’s cities, against the wishes of local officials, in a ploy to demonstrate President Trump’s “law and order” credentials and further his reelection campaign.

20 July
Constitutional law experts see federal officers’ actions in Portland as a ‘red flag’
(AP) — Federal law enforcement officers’ actions at protests in Oregon’s largest city, done without local authorities’ consent, are raising the prospect of a constitutional crisis — one that could escalate as weeks of demonstrations find renewed focus in clashes with camouflaged, unidentified agents outside Portland’s U.S. courthouse.
State and local authorities, who did not ask for federal help, are awaiting a ruling in a federal lawsuit filed late last week by state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. She said in court papers that masked federal officers have arrested people off the street, far from the courthouse, with no probable cause — and whisked them away in unmarked cars.
Constitutional law experts said Monday the federal officers’ actions are a “red flag” in what could become a test case of states’ rights as the Trump administration expands its federal policing into other cities. WATCH: Presence, tactics of federal agents in Portland, Oregon, prompt questions and criticism
Trump’s Occupation of American Cities Has Begun
Protesters are being snatched from the streets without warrants. Can we call it fascism yet?
Michelle Goldberg
In 2017, the idea of unidentified agents in camouflage snatching leftists off the streets without warrants might have seemed like a febrile Resistance fantasy. Now it’s happening.
The Trump administration has announced that it intends to send a similar force to other cities; on Monday, The Chicago Tribune reported on plans to deploy about 150 federal agents to Chicago. “I don’t need invitations by the state,” Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said on Fox News Monday, adding, “We’re going to do that whether they like us there or not.”
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.
By Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes
(The Atlantic)
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.
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.

16 July
Federal Law Enforcement Use Unmarked Vehicles To Grab Protesters Off Portland Streets
(OPB/Oregon Public Broadcasting) 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.
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.
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.
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.

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