June 9, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Trump Is Doing Just What Cops Do
Americans of color understand fascism intimately.
One of the many hard-to-watch videos that surfaced last weekend showing white police officers intimidating, harassing, injuring and otherwise assaulting peaceful protesters demonstrating after the murder of George Floyd came from Buffalo.
In the video, a white elderly man can be seen walking in one direction on the sidewalk while an armed and armored “emergency response team” is walking in the opposite direction on the same sidewalk. Martin Gugino, a 75-year-old Catholic Worker well-known locally, stops to exchange words with two officers. The officers then shove Gugino so hard he falls backward, slamming his head on the concrete. As he lies supine, immobile and bleeding, the officers keep walking, as does the riot squad.
If we stop with knocking down Trump’s bonkers mindset, democracy will not have learned what it must to survive.
Officers Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe, who are white, were arrested Saturday and charged with felony assault. Suspended without pay, they pleaded not guilty at their arraignment. Their release on personal recognizance was met with cheers from supporters. One American News, a startup trying to out-Fox Fox News, has taken up their case for a story about law and order versus anarchy. This morning, the outlet’s most important viewer took out of his busy day the time to tweet the following.
Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment. @OANN I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?
Before I unpack this, let’s be clear about something. There is no ambiguity—there is no doubt whatsoever—what Torgalski and McCabe did. The video, by WBFO, the city’s NPR affiliate, shows what happened. There is only one unknown, what Gugino said to them, which could not have been so bad that two armed and armored cops in prime physical health were justified in assaulting a septuagenarian peace activist.
Because video evidence is so total in removing all doubt about who did what to whom and how, it leaves the police officers and their defenders little or no room to move short of departing the world of facts and reason entirely, which is what OANN apparently did. It dipped into the toxic slough of conspiracy theory to invent a story about a covert Antifa agent sabotaging cops before setting them up for a fall.
Don’t forget the tip jar!
It’s truly hard finding the words to capture how despicable the president’s tweet is. Blaming an old man for his injuries is peak gaslighting, a superlative act of sadism. But if we stop there, if we stop with merely knocking down Donald Trump’s bonkers mindset, democracy will not have learned what it must to survive. As I keep saying, the moral corruption eating the heart out of the United States won’t stop with Trump’s defeat. If citizens are to take back their sovereignty, they must take the next steps.
Next steps include seeing the invention of fake enemies in order to justify virtually any government response to the president’s real enemies. Antifa, or Anti-Fascist, is a real thing. (Indeed, the US, in defeating Nazi Germany, was once a nation of Antifa.) But it is not what the president or his confederates say. They talk about it as if it were a highly organized underground organization operating in the shadows. It is no such thing. New York Jets fans are better structured and more determined. Antifa is a loose network (though “network” is too strong) of ideologically aligned activists, some of whom prefer streetfighting, most of whom are nonviolent anti-fascist activists. The most famous member of Antifa is fascist Richard Spencer’s celebrated assailant.
Thanks to racism, white Americans can live their whole lives not knowing the fascism endured by fellow citizens.
I very much doubt a 75-year-old peacenik like Martin Gugino has ever even heard of Antifa, but that doesn’t matter to Trump, who desires more than anything a means of discrediting a popular uprising in the form of Black Lives Matter protests that are growing in strength and threatening to topple him in November. More frighteningly, what matters to Bill Barr, the United States Attorney General, is the invention of a criminal to which prosecutors can affix a crime with which to destroy the president’s real enemies. Barr has defined Antifa so broadly as to include virtually any American protesting for justice. He is deploying a tactic familiar to fascists all the world over.
By accusing a victim of a crime of being the true criminal, the president is gaslighting Gugino as well as the rest of us. But he’s not doing anything cops don’t do all the time. Gugino was shoved. That’s clear. Anyone with eyesight could see that. Yet the Buffalo Police Department issued a statement saying Gugino “tripped and fell.” This is not an exception. Lying is endemic in police departments. Ask any local reporter on the cops beat. They regularly depart the world of fact and reason when the world of fact and reason challenges the maintenance of the in-group’s domination over the out-group. (The out-group, depending on the circumstances, can be anyone who’s “anti-cop”; and like Barr, police departments often invent crimes to enforce, like breaking curfew.)
That’s textbook fascism.
Remember, Gugino is elderly. He’s white. He’s well-known. Now imagine, or recall, what communities of color are right now experiencing—the gaslighting, the sadism, the disrespect and outright violation of guaranteed civil rights and civil liberties. Thanks to racism, white Americans can live their whole lives not knowing what their fellow citizens endure. Thanks to a fascist president, they know. Defeating him, however, isn’t enough. In one sense Barr is right. All of us are, or should be, Antifa.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.