Trump’s Storm Troopers

Federal agents in Portland
Federal agents in Portland. | Photo: Noah Berger / AP

By David Sole

On June 1 President Donald Trump spoke to state governors across the United States. He denounced them saying “most of you are weak.” And he demanded that they respond to the massive and widespread demonstrations around the country that broke out following the May 25 lynching of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. “You must dominate” the streets, arrest the protesters and jail them “for ten years.”

U.S. Attorney General William Barr added his own instructions, sounding like a mafia hitman. “We have to take out the professional instigators and the leadership group … in the major cities” he said. Like his boss, he showed no understanding that a mass spontaneous and justified uprising had broken out over the systematic mistreatment and murder of African Americans and other oppressed peoples in the U.S. [; June 1, 2020].

Later that same day Trump showed what he had in mind. With no warning given, peaceful protesters across the street from the White House were attacked by police using tear gas, flash grenades, swinging batons and shields, driving them from the park. This was so that Trump could walk a short distance to St. John’s Episcopal Church (closed due to the coronavirus pandemic) and hold up a bible outside for a photo op.

While D.C. police tried to justify the police assault, Maj. Adam DeMarco of the Army National Guard felt otherwise. Testifying to the House Natural Resources Committee the very next day, DeMarco stated that military personnel present at the time “were left upset and confused by the violent force used to clear the area.” “I started talking to my fellow service members, and they were expressing many of the same consternations and concerns,” he added. [Military Times, July 27, 2020].

June 1 also saw discussions in the White House where Trump demanded mobilization of U.S. troops to crush the demonstrations. For the rest of the week news reports exposed a contentious struggle with those who supported and those who opposed the president’s use of active duty military personnel.

It would be a lot to expect military officers on active duty to speak out against their commander-in-chief. But by June 8 a number of prominent retired military officers went public to attack Trump’s proposal to use troops in the cities.

Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State, said the president “has drifted away from” the Constitution. James Mattis, former Secretary of Defense for Trump and John Kelly, retired Marine general also spoke out.

Among others coming out publicly against using the military forces to put down protests were retired admiral Mike Mullen, also a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs who was “sickened” by what he witnessed on June 1.

Retired Marine general John Allen and former Joint Chiefs chair Martin Dempsey joined the crowd of dissenters. [, June 8, 2020].

It would be a mistake to think any of these high ranking critics are friends of the people. Many of them served loyally in the racist and reactionary Trump administration. And they all were willing tools of United States imperialist military world domination.

What they represent, however, is a broad section of the U.S. ruling class that does not favor Trump’s call for military confrontation here at home. A large part of the ruling class must be confident that they can keep control of the masses and the U.S. profit making machine without the use of an “iron fist.” They also, no doubt, are keenly aware that the U.S. military active services are composed of 43% people of color. They have to be asking themselves how these troops would respond to orders to police protests against racism. It has happened in the past that military units rebelled and refused to go into the cities to confront protests, most notably in the 1968 Fort Hood rebellion [Wikipedia – Fort Hood 43].

Portland’s Rebellion

In July people across the U.S. and the world got to see Trump’s Stormtroopers violently attacking protesters in Portland, Oregon. These forces came from the FBI, DEA, ATF, the U.S. Marshall’s Service, Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection and other federal services.

Heavily armed troops in camouflage uniforms but without identification showing, attacked nightly demonstrators in downtown Portland. Individuals were swept up into unmarked vans. Crowds were fired upon with massive teargas barrages. Chemical mace and riot sticks pummeled protesters. Some people were shot in the face with rubber bullets causing massive injuries.

The nightly Portland marches had dwindled, according to many reports, since the height of the George Floyd protest rallies. This uncalled for and unconstitutional use of military might provoked a mass response from across Portland. On some nights a “wall of mothers” faced down the Stormtroopers. On other nights a “wall of veterans” appeared. Union members showed up as a defense wall. People carrying leaf-blowers pushed the clouds of teargas back toward the troops. Kids wielding hockey sticks slammed the tear gas canisters back to their sources.

The use of these Stormtroopers came under attack by Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler   and Oregon governor Kate Brown  denounced the use of these unsolicited forces. Several court actions were taken by the ACLU and others to challenge the constitutionality of the deployment.

On July 29 Governor Brown announced that the federal agents would be withdrawn in phases. The Guardian called it “an embarrassing climbdown by the White House.” However there appears to be continuing violent attacks by these goons before they are finally withdrawn. [The Guardian-US edition, July 30, 2020].

No one in the progressive movement should be shocked or surprised by the behavior of these federal agents. Police violence has been a reality for decades and longer in the African American community as well as Latinx, Native and other oppressed populations. Perhaps more of it is seen now due to the prevalence of social media. The fact is that much of the ruling class is opposed to Trump and is allowing their mass corporate media to show the protests in a favorable light. This could end at any time as it has in the past where protesters were maligned and misrepresented in order for the ruling class to suppress them.

The placing of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children in cages without proper medical care, sanitary supplies or their parents also showed the world what can be expected from the U.S. government. Trump and his cohorts may be guilty of these crimes, but it isn’t much different than the criminal enterprise known as the prison-industrial complex that has flourished around the U.S. for over 100 years.

Using extremely repressive federal forces at home also mirrors what has been done for over a century to nations invaded and occupied by the United States empire. For decades people have been exposing and protesting at what used to be called the “School of the Americas.” This military installation literally trains police and soldiers from around this hemisphere in torture and repression techniques to use against their own people to safeguard U.S. economic domination and exploitation of those countries.

No doubt Trump has his own narrow interest in deploying the federal agents to Portland and surely gave instructions to maximize the brutality and repression. He is consumed with fear of losing the November election and knows that “law and order” plays well to his base. More of these Stormtroopers are being sent to Cleveland, Milwaukee and Detroit according to Matthew Schneider, chief federal prosecutor for southeast Michigan [, July 29, 2020].

Election by coup

Some have speculated that Trump may also use these militarized forces if he loses the presidential election in the fall. This scenario has Trump denouncing the election results as fraudulent and refusing to leave office. It would be irresponsible to ignore this possibility in light of the highly polarized political climate in the country and Trump’s close relations with the ultra-right wing forces.

Some might say this could never happen here “in the democratic U.S. of A.” But Trump floated a similar idea in a tweet reported in the August 3 New York Times. He wrote:

“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

It should not be left up to the two capitalist parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, to work out how the election ends up. Remember how George W. Bush stole the 2000 election from Gore in Florida. Fascist-like gangs invaded government buildings where ballots were being counted. The Democrats, fearing a mass uprising, only asked for a limited recount while people around the country were waiting vainly for the Dems to call them out to come to Florida. Finally the Supreme Court of the United States weighed in to give Bush the election.

With an unprecedented progressive mass movement now in the streets revolutionaries should seriously be thinking of how to put forward concrete actions to guide the masses to direct, militant action, even knowing that the bourgeois elections do not really give an opening for real revolutionary change. In 1973, when Nixon faced impeachment and many feared that he would call out troops into the cities in a coup d’etat, revolutionaries printed tens of thousands of 4 page newspapers that appealed to the rank and file soldiers to “refuse illegal orders.” These appeals were stockpiled and, it turned out, did not have to be used.

The instability of the U.S. capitalist system is growing. A mass anti-racist movement, broader than anything seen in history, is sweeping the country at the same time as the profoundest economic crisis spreads unemployment, hunger, and homelessness. The lack of a large disciplined revolutionary party is unfortunate at this time, but it is not fatal. Revolutionaries must act now to unite with the hundreds of various currents that are spontaneously arising and which can combine into a serious force to challenge white supremacy, capitalism and imperialism.

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