July 20, 2020 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Yes, Trump’s secret police are real
Talk about it and don't stop till Election Day.
Some time ago, Joe Biden said the president would try stealing the 2020 presidential election. He didn’t say Donald Trump would steal it. Biden didn’t say the election was rigged against him. He said Trump would try, one way or another, and Biden said this as a warning. If you do not want a stolen presidency, you need to vote, and you need to vote in such overwhelming numbers that the election’s outcome won’t be in doubt.
Biden’s statement was a reminder. Democracy is fragile, but it is also strong—when enough citizens take responsibility for it. Though we face threats domestically (the president and his GOP confederates), internationally (Russian and Chinese spies and saboteurs) and impersonally (a pandemic that has killed over 143,000 Americans), we can face them together, and overcome them together, when armed with the right knowledge. Just knowing it’s possible to steal an election might be enough to stop it.
What can be done? Among others things, do what Biden did.
Of course, political knowledge usually comes by way of a Washington press corps that has one indisputable bias encumbering our need for political knowledge. That bias is for the east coast. If it happens here (my beloved New Haven, in my humble opinion, is indeed the center of the universe), no matter how trivial or irrelevant it is to the rest of the country, it’s national news. If it happens in St. Louis, say, it might be. It depends.
The president ordered federal agents last month to gas peaceful protesters out of Lafayette Square, in Washington, for a photo op with a Holy Bible he didn’t own in front of a Episcopalian church he didn’t attend. That was national news automatically. The same agents later went to Portland, Oregon. Late last week and over the weekend, they again gassed peaceful protesters. That wasn’t national news. The result is that most people this Monday morning have no idea the president’s secret police are real.
“Secret police” is not hyperbole. They were dressed in fatigues and heavily armed. They did not bear identifying features, such as names, badge numbers or indicators of which law enforcement entity they represented. A video online showed two of them refusing to answer basic questions—“Who are you?” “Where are you taking her?”—as they marched up to a protester, seized her, then loaded her into an unmarked vehicle without informing her of her rights. When apparent agents of the state do not identify themselves and do not declare the authority by which they are acting—“This is the Portland police and you are under arrest”—they are, by definition, secret police.
In truth, they were connected to the US Department of Homeland Security, specifically Border Patrol, and they were acting, DHS officials later said, under a provision of law passed after Sept. 11, 2001, giving the department the authority to “send in federal agents to help the Federal Protective Service when federal property is threatened,” according to the Times. Portlanders have been demanding justice for the murder of George Floyd for the last 50-some days. A tiny fraction vandalized some national monuments. That appears to be the reason for deploying federal agents.
Journalist Lindsey Smith has been documenting Portland’s protests. A slice of federal land, Terry Schrunk Plaza, has never been a focus of demonstrations (the focus was on racial injustice), though people have been beaten and arrested for coming near it, she said. Last night, Smith reported scenes involving a group of mothers who confronted federal agents, shouting “Leave our kids alone.” CBS News covered it. After cameras went off, however, federal agents gassed the mothers, Smith said. The Times reported Sunday that local, state and federal elected officials representing Oregon have called for an investigation of DHS’s actions and for federal agents to get out of their state.
The Washington Monthly’s David Atkins was right, I suspect, to suggest that Portland is a preview of Election Day. If graffiti is a pretext for crushing dissent, Covid-19 is a pretext for intimidating voters as they stand in line to vote. “We could end up seeing armed private contractors hired by the RNC and affiliated conservative organizations to intimidate Democratic-leaning voters, bolstered by camouflage-wearing taxpayer-funded rifle-toting border patrol agents aggressively checking papers of every voter in line in the guise of ‘securing against voter fraud’ on the president’s orders,” he wrote.
What can we do? Among other things, do what Joe Biden did when he said the president is going to try stealing the election. Talk about the likely use of “gestapo tactics” to achieve that end, so the citizenry might prevent it from happening. Talk about it so much that the east coast-oriented press corps must give it full attention. Talk about it so much that the Democratic lawmakers in the House feel they must act now. The secret police can’t stay secret when they are the center of a national debate.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.