Jackbooted Federal Goons in Portland?

So it’s come down to this. Trump has begun sending federal troops (or whatever they are) into Portland, and has threatened to do the same in Chicago and New York. The District Attorney of Philadelphia, in turn, has threatened to arrest any federal officer found to be violating his jurisdiction.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner promised to criminally charge any federal agents who “unlawfully assault” or “kidnap” Black Lives Matter protesters in the City of Brotherly Love.


People are quite understandably worried. I have a different view. Trump’s panicked overreaction to Black Lives matter is not something to be feared. The monster that has suddenly revealed itself in plain sight may be terrifying, but it’s far less dangerous than it was when it was lurking in the shadows. We are seeing the economic and cultural contradictions of a corrupt American ruling class play out in real time.

For decades the American right has billed itself as being anti-government, but it’s important to keep one thing in mind. Traditionally, when right wing libertarians criticize “government,” they have only referred to the federal government, not state and local government. As I wrote back in 2015, conservatives hate the federal government but love their local sheriff.

While the American ruling class may not be consciously fascist, they still seem to fear a revolutionary upsurge by the American people, and by black Americans in particular. Hitler had his Ernst Rohm and Heinrich Himmler, but the American ruling class doesn’t need storm troops with a centralized leadership, let alone a single fascist grandee. All they have to do is mobilize conservative, white resentment and fear of national decline behind the highly militarized, but decentralized network of big city police forces, the class armies they built up in the wake of 9/11. A more centralized command structure, in fact, is not only unnecessary. It’s not desired. The banks were able to crush Occupy Wall Street with a highly coordinated attack, even while arguing they had nothing to do with it, that it was just about city cops dealing with a public nuisance. The intermittent murders of black men and women by the police, in turn, don’t have to be planned, just allowed to happen. The police become, in effect, a distributed Gestapo, a rallying point behind which conservative whites, already heavily armed, can reaffirm their loyalty to the capitalist state, even while denying it. They hate the federal government. They support their local sheriff.


Back in 2011, Barack Obama smashed Occupy Wall Street, but he did it with a coordinated, but decentralized network of local police forces. That allowed Wall Street and the media to market the crackdown, not as political repression organized in the defense of wealth and privilege but as a “public safety issue” enforced by city cops. In 2020, in one overly hasty move, Trump has thrown away this plausible deniability and begun taking responsibility for a direct attack on the First Amendment. While middle-class, liberal Democratic women (most of whom support gun control) organized as the Wall of Moms, are taking on jackbooted federal goons in the streets of Portland, the usual right wing “libertarian” suspects in the NRA are nowhere to be seen. On the contrary, the hardcore, gun toting right, who loudly virtue signal that their guns are about opposing government tyranny, at this moment seem to support government tyranny. The “distributed gestapo” that I wrote about in 2015, the decentralized network of militarized police forces and local media that’s been so successful in keeping the American people compliant and politically passive, has suddenly found itself in need of a federal bailout.

But it goes even deeper.

This March, the liberal wing of the ruling class had to mobilize an older, conservative generation of black voters in South Carolina behind a senile reactionary old relic of the 1980s and 1990s in the form of Joe Biden in order to head off a real possibility that Bernie Sanders would win the Presidential nomination and push for Medicare for All. This meant that Democratic Party mayors of big cities like Seattle, Portland, and New York couldn’t bring down the hammer against protests the way they did against Occupy Wall Street in 2011 or Black Lives Matter in 2015 and 2016. In order to maintain their facade of anti-racism, they had to let the protests go on, which, in turn, terrified the more culturally conservative wing of the ruling class, perfectly and vividly summed up by the image of two middle-aged, right wing lawyers standing on their lawyers pointing guns at protesters in St. Louis Missouri a few weeks ago. Trump, recognizing the full blown panic in his white supremacist base, which no longer control the local police, decided to tap into the very federal bureaucracy he loudly claims to oppose, a federal bureaucracy that would just as soon see Joe Biden win this November. Biden, in turn, is so out of touch he might as well be living in a different decade, which of course he is.

The whole system, in other words, is weak. Suddenly the American people have begun to act like the French. The orange game show host in the White House has begun to talk like Napoleon and about how the the rabble in the streets need a good “whiff of grapeshot.” The liberal and conservative wings of the American ruling class, who usually pretend to battle it out in a pantomime so obviously fake it makes professional wrestling look like a real sport, are now tearing at each other’s throats in earnest. The “anti-government” far right has revealed itself to be what we’ve known them to be all along, boot licking racist thugs who worship established wealth and privilege. White middle-class soccer moms, who in normal times would wag their fingers and tell their kids not to talk about politics or religion, are now learning how to pick up tear gas canisters and hurl them back at riot police, almost as if they were students in Paris in 1968. Whether it will lead to the rebirth of American democracy or open, fascist totalitarianism, only time will tell, but I highly doubt anything’s going back to “normal.”

13 thoughts on “Jackbooted Federal Goons in Portland?”

  1. I love that song by Leonard Cohen (a Canadian) “Democracy (is coming to the USA)”. Someday, USA citizens will realize there are more than 2 parties and huge money in elections can be controlled (as countries like Canada limit campaign funding). I think Trump is turning “Black Lives Matter” into “the enemy” “burning down the Reichstag” and oppression by police will rise, instead of being defunded. Donny the Dominator gets Darker…

  2. I love that song by Phil Ochs (an American) “To the shores of Tripoli but not to Missassipoli, what do we? We send the Marines”. Is not the mayor of Portland just defending the rule of the good ole ruling Democrats? The rich manipulating the BLM issue to shore up their long corrupt rule? Sure. For what passes for local governance in Portland has long been a disgrace. Watching the corrupt now trying to drape themselves in the mantel of liberty is a bit much.

    Trumps brownshirts sure isn’t Lincoln’s army entering Richmond. Why isn’t the city police out there protecting its citizens and moving to arrest this gang of invading thugs? Now, that would be something. Maybe the presence of a large number of heavily armed citizens. That would surely change the optiks and balance of forces. Protect the occupation against all comers with arms in hand!

    1. The “arms in hand” ideal is what the gun lobby has always said – you need guns for protection from rogue governments. Although, informal gunfights around town doesn’t sound like security, to me. And you end up with a murder rate like Mexico, as if you can be killed for nothing, really. Will the 1000 Americans killed by police increase, now?

  3. Your argument loops into a dead end. There is no hope but that a meek, helpless public must be subject to one or another bunch of official armed men even when they oppose each other. That’s a recipe for surrender.

    Americans are already armed to the teeth. We both acknowledge this. I say that those of good persuasion should organize and conduct themselves with discipline for the purpose of providing defence for the oppressed. That’s pretty well how history has unfolded for as long as we know it. Because the bad guys with guns never see the light and just quietly disarm themselves. The means of persuasion has to be more convincing. And if the best you have to offer the oppressed is Give Up then they will look for a better alternative.

    Do you imagine that President Joe Biden will disarm the U.S. military? Because that’s why Russia+China are arming themselves as fast as possible. Mutatis mutandis within the United States.

    1. Americans are already armed to the teeth. We both acknowledge this. I say that those of good persuasion should organize and conduct themselves with discipline for the purpose of providing defence for the oppressed.

      Gun enthusiasts are nowhere to be seen. It’s unarmed middle-aged women who are standing up to the federal government, at least in Portland.

  4. By Andrew P. Napolitano

    “They are unlawful because federal agents are selectively arresting folks and not even pretending to be enforcing local and state laws. Under federal law, the feds may not deploy police or military domestically unless the state legislature or the state governor requests it. Neither has done so for Portland.

    The feds’ activities are unconstitutional because they are using government force to arrest people without probable cause or arrest warrants. We know there is no legal basis for these “arrests,” as they have not charged anyone. Moreover, this is so harmful and terrifying – being kidnapped, handcuffed, blindfolded, not spoken to and then released, all for no stated reason – it will chill others from public dissent”.

    OK. So, why haven’t the police intervened?. How about the State Militia? Both are lawful. Both are doing nothing. So it’s up to the posse comitatus now. Annie, get your guns!

    1. I’m not really confident about making any predictions. I’m just trying to point out the contradictions at work. Decentralized repression is key to the kind of control the American ruling class exercises over the American people. That seems to have broken down.

      We all know what the ruling class is trying to do. They want to separate Trump from the Republicans and exercise power through a loose alliance between the right wing of the Democratic Party and neoconservative Republicans.

      That may happen, but whoever wins in November is going to be weak. Biden is going to be left holding the bag for the economic costs of the pandemic. That will require more corporate bailouts and more repression. But the Democratic Party also depends on conservative black voters to keep single payer and free college off the table. So they can’t exercise the kind of repression at the local level they did in 2011 and 2015.

      Then there’s the wildcard. It might be a close election and Trump might not concede. Then the Democrats are left with the choice of calling people into the streets and radicalizing them or siding with the same people they’ve been calling literal Nazis for the past 3 years.

      1. We speak notionally of the ‘ruling class’ or ‘elites’. But it’s the struggles between the factions of the hoi polloi that are the engines of power and of change. Whichever bunch prevails here and there reaps the profits of controlling the machinery. The legacy of that apparatus is what causes whomever is in power to adapt to its needs. Democrats run on the left but govern on the right sort of thing. When the faction fights become as deep and serious as they currently are then the opportunity for those ruled over to intervene to their advantage exists. Splits n the ranks of the ruling class across history paves the way for revolution. Which is why in such time it is especially bad for advocates of the oppressed to continue pandering to one ruling faction or another. Instead of building up the ranks of the Soon To Be.

    2. No. They don’t.

    3. Trump is literally tear gassing the elites of major American cities.

      Now the Mayor of Portland may be grandstanding. He’s a politician after all. But the fact the he feels he needs to make a show of standing up to the federal government is significant. The local elites are no long willing to suppress protest to the satisfaction of the more conservative wing of the ruling class.

  5. On a careful re-read, I think this is very well put. Some thoughts are exceptionally well crafted. Other parts, not so much. But that’s the way of things.

    The Good Angel counsels to stay the course of principle. The Bad Angel says go with the flow of opportunism. St. Peter and honour holds all to account.

    1. Yes, I find myself seeking Buddhist “emptiness” to escape “samsara” of all this worldly nonsense. Filled with “evil deeds” all around us, we need sanctuary to preserve our “holiness” that arises in the emptiness we can choose. The USA extradition of Meng Wanzhou from Canada is clearly simply “extortion”. Wwe need names of “bankers” who block petro-dollars from Venezuela and Iran, following the wild will of Presidential paranoia. “American Auschwitz guards” are what these bankers are and media doesn’t name them by design in support of wayward extortions by USA. Canada should put Meng in a secret place and begin the “deal” with the two Canadian Michaels in exchange for Meng. An American counter-offer would move things along…See you some other day, as I seek refuge in the “Buddha, Dharma and Sangha”.

      1. I wonder at the patience of the Chinese to provocation by the U.S such as Meng Wanzhou. Their position is strong yet they forebear. Leading to the thought that they are playing the Americans in their impetuousness. Meaning traps are being set. Only when they are sure they have their ducks in a row, then, then will rain down hammer blows.

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