Attack Of God’s Art Squad

Federal officers prepare to disperse the crowd of protesters outside the Multnomah County Justice Center on July 17 in Portland. The use of federal agents has only made a bad situation worse, state and local officials told NPR.

It has all come together for me – THE ART PROPHET! From the attacks of the Portland Street Weasel, Alley Valkyrie, to the harassment of a valid Art Historian by El Lardo and The She Uglies, and, including the Hate Fest launched by my daughter The Sociopath. And let’s not leave out the Cultural Warfare with my Muse, Rena Easton. I saw THIS ALL – coming!

Just to stir the pot I am going to write President Trump and inform him what Ed Ray did to my kin, Senator Thomas Hart Benton, who was the sole proprietor of the Oregon Territory. I will inform the Evangelical President there is a plot to remove the name of Joseph Lane from our County. If Wayne Morse were alive he would threaten to have Oregon secede from the Union.

How like Zardoz this Art Happening is. Zed has penetrated the Oregon Vortex and let in his armed masked men so they can exterminate The Immortals.  They say these goons are prison guards which fulfills the prophecy of my novel ‘The Gideon Computer’.

John Presco

A US Customs and Border Protection internal memo, obtained by the Nation and dated 1 July, offers some answers. In response to a presidential order “Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Activity, “ the acting director of homeland security has created the “DHS Protecting American Communities Task Force (Pact) to provide an ongoing assessment of potential civil unrest and property destruction”.

Doomscrolling, describes the way we compulsively tickle our phones into providing a non-stop stream of dire health and disease statistics, grim economic predictions, images of food lines and exploding emergency rooms.

With so much doom to scroll through, it’s hard to know when to stop and pay attention, but one story that jumped out at me – and, I hope, at many others – is the account of how demonstrators in Portland, Oregon, protesting racism and police brutality earlier in July, were tear-gassed, beaten, seized off the street by unidentified, masked federal agents in camouflage and fatigues, hustled into unmarked vans and detained for hours. The agents were reported to work with the US Marshals Special Operations Group and Bortac, the Border Patrol Tactical Unit.

Government-funded thugs, assaulting citizens, still conjure up repellent images of Hitler’s Brownshirts stomping their fellow Germans, and the street kidnapping of civilians has been the hallmark of authoritarian dictatorships. That was how you wound up in one of Stalin’s labor gulags, in the helicopter from which the Argentinian junta dropped its critics into the sea, or in a CIA black site. In a headline, an Esquire article on the Portland attacks used Pinochet (the tyrant who orchestrated the disappearance of thousands of Chileans during his 17-year regime) as a verb: “A Major American City is Being Softly Pinochet’d in Broad Daylight.”

One can track the violence to Trump ordering the governors to “dominate” their cities, of which, he claimed, they’d lost control. But the governor of Oregon, the mayor of Portland and other local officials insisted that they don’t want federal agents gassing their citizens. So who does?

A US Customs and Border Protection internal memo, obtained by the Nation and dated 1 July, offers some answers. In response to a presidential order “Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Activity, “ the acting director of homeland security has created the “DHS Protecting American Communities Task Force (Pact) to provide an ongoing assessment of potential civil unrest and property destruction”.

The italics are mine, but the memo describes the formation of a paramilitary organization, reporting to the federal government and free from the laws, rules and conventions followed (even nominally) by police and the army.

In addition, the DHS has begun “coordination with the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Department of the Interior (DoI) to establish information/intelligence sharing and resource coordination as outlined in the order.

“CBP will be supporting this effort by deploying personnel to provide support over the Fourth of July holiday weekend which has the potential for increased disruptive activity at specific locations across the country that could threaten our personnel and the federal facilities and property they protect.”

Like potentialsupport is a questionable word, since Portland never asked for the troops’ support or presence. As for potential disruptive activity, two of the men whisked into unmarked vans were quietly leaving the demonstration, which was winding down.

The mention of the DoJ naturally brings to mind William Barr, the attorney general, okaying the use of teargas and national guard troops against the demonstrators in Washington on 20 June to make way for Donald Trump’s St John’s church photo op. The incident was a public-relations disaster, so why not do better in Portland, cut the awkward, upside-down Bible and Ivanka’s Max Mara purse and go stealthy? Cue the unidentified agents and the trolling unmarked vans. The Esquire article refers to the Portland arrests as a rehearsal; it’s one in a series of rehearsals. First DC, then Portland. Coming soon to a city near you.

Is all that manpower necessary to protect statues? Who knew White House was so invested in art, culture – or American history? These attacks are about exerting power, bullying dissenters, intimidating Americans into giving up their first amendment protections, their constitutional rights. Robert Evans, a Portland-based freelance journalist and conflict reporter, told the New York Times: “Portland is being used as a bellwether to see what this administration can get away with. And also what works to quell protest.”

How much clearer must it be? There are those who would like to see the establishment of an authoritarian state that despise minorities and immigrants, hates women and the poor, and in mid-pandemic, values money and profit over human life. This prospect intensifies the anxiety of many Americans who fear a stolen election, widespread voter suppression, further affronts to the rule of law.

Fortunately, there’s been pushback. The demonstrations in Portland have gotten larger and more impassioned. Portland mayor Ted Wheeler called the violence “an attack on our democracy”. The ACLU and the Portland Mercury are suing federal agents. The Portland city commissioner asked the troops to leave. Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Chuck Merkley, and New York senator Chuck Schumer, are demanding a federal investigation. Oregon governor Kate Brown accused acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf of trying to “provoke confrontation for political purposes.”

Americans who care about our country and still hope we can fix our flawed democracy should pay attention. There are those, Trump and Barr among them, who would like to see our freedoms replaced by unflagging obedience to the needs of corporations and billionaires. What happened in Portland is an important story hiding in the shadow of Covid-19’s devastations. If we let the increasingly empowered paramilitary arms of the government deny our right to assemble and speak freely, to circumvent our legal system and eliminate the writ of habeas corpus, we won’t need to scroll down our phones to know that we are doomed.

  • Francine Prose is a former president of PEN American Center and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

A protester in front of federal security forces on 16th St NW in front of the White House on June 3, 2020.Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images

On Tuesday, while walking alongside hundreds of protesters giving the finger to the Trump International Hotel as they marched toward Congress, I spotted armed men in quasi-military gear standing on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the FBI’s headquarters.

I approached, noticing they had no obvious insignias, unlike the DC Police and some of the other law enforcement out tracking protesters and guarding DC buildings this week.

I asked two men who they were with. “We’re with the Department of Justice,” one answered. “Are you with a specific agency?” I asked. “Are you regular DOJ employees or just detailed there?” He responded: “We’re with the Department of Justice” to all my questions. He asked me who I was with, which I was happy to share, and why I wanted to know, which I’d hoped was obvious. This is America. We are supposed to know who’s policing us.

But things are changing. The Trump administration, in the name of order, is claiming the power to use unidentified federal law enforcement personnel to police protests. On top of the dizzying array of federal law enforcement already out in force this week, these are some of the “federal assets” that Donald Trump said he was deploying in DC in the wake of large protests and substantial looting and property damage on Sunday night. These officers, if that’s what they are, have not only declined to identify themselves, but appear to be actively taking steps to hide their affiliation.

As the march Tuesday continued east, I saw dozens more men dressed similarly—green fatigues, black undershirts, helmets, shoes not boots, and no masks. A group of them were spread out around the Navy Memorial between 8th and 9th St. on Pennsylvania. One told me he was with the “federal government.” He said, a little apologetically, that this was all he was allowed to say.

Another said that he and his colleagues were “Justice Department assets.” When I asked if they always wore those uniforms, he said no: “We put on what they tell us to.”

Later, Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec, in response to my inquiry, said in an email that these personnel were from “BOP,” or the Bureau of Prisons. NPR, citing a “senior Justice Department official,” reported Monday that Attorney General Bill Barr “directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to dispatch riot teams” to Miami and DC to help local authorities respond to protests. Kupec didn’t answer additional questions, including whether these security forces have been specifically instructed to hide their affiliation.

But it seems that amid curfews and a stay-at-home order, DC residents are being confronted by people normally used to guard federal prisoners, under a Congress we have no say in electing.

On Wednesday afternoon, Garrett Haake, an MSNBC  reporter, tweeted pictures of unidentified law enforcement officers with name plates and insignias removed. Haake said the officers refused to identify themselves.

The badge on the left shoulder of one officer appears to be from a “Disturbance Control Team” at the Bureau of Prisons, my colleague Russ Ch

My Tuesday tweets about the officials who would only say they worked for DOJ drew extensive speculation that the men were private contractors, possibly affiliated with Erik Prince, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and founder of the former private military contractor Blackwater. There was so much speculation that Blackwater, which no longer exists, trended on Twitter for hours. There is no evidence these guys are private contractors or connected to Prince. But that so many people suspected this link highlights an obvious risk of what Barr and Trump are doing. People are trying to puzzle out the identity of armed forces facing us because the government won’t say.

American citizens are left confronting unidentified apparent paramilitary police with no way of knowing what legal authority, if any, these forces vested with the power to kill us possess. That is not occurring in Ukraine, where Russia’s “little green men” occupy parts of Donbass, or in dystopian fiction. It’s happening today, a few feet from the White House.

Update: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said in a tweet Wednesday night that he plans to introduce legislation to require that uniformed federal officers doing domestic security work identify what agency or military branch they work for. Democrats Don Beyer of Virginia Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC’s delegate, said they are working on similar House legislation.

DHS and Justice Department personnel have made about two dozen arrests since July 4 in the vicinity of the federal courthouse in Portland, not including short-term detentions of suspects whom agents want to question, according to a DHS official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss federal law enforcement operations in Portland. The protesters’ use of black clothing, face coverings and diversion tactics have made it difficult for federal agents to identify suspects, they said.

DHS teams were deployed to reinforce the Federal Protective Service in Seattle, as well, before July 4 in anticipation of major disturbances, but the Seattle team has been withdrawn, the official added.

While the DHS official said there are no immediate plans to increase the presence in other cities, the president of Chicago’s police union on Saturday published a public letter to President Trump asking for federal assistance in controlling the “chaos” in city. Union President John Catanzara also criticized Mayor Lori Lightfoot, whose office called the letter “a stunt,” in a statement to CBS.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler on Sunday implored the “dozens, if not hundreds” of federal agents to leave the city, saying that unidentified Homeland Security officers were detaining residents in unmarked minivans.

Their presence is neither wanted nor is it helpful and we’re asking them to leave,“ Wheeler (D) said. “In fact, we’re demanding that they leave.”

In response, Cuccinelli said, “We don’t have any plans to do that.”

When the violence recedes, then that is when we would look at that,” he said. “This isn’t intended to be a permanent arrangement, but it will last as long as the violence demands additional support to contend with.”

Last Sunday, the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, was re-elected by a narrow margin with the help of an assault on what he styled “LGBT ideology”: he campaigned on a “family charter” to protect Poles from this new threat, worse than communism.

Two of Poland’s near neighbours have recently activated anti-LGBT politics in similar ways. In May, Viktor Orbán’s Hungarian government passed a law that makes it impossible for trans people to change their gender on legal documents. And last month, Russians voted by a landslide to approve Vladimir Putin’s Russian constitution: among its many amendments is one that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

Already, Russia’s lawmakers are explicitly using the new constitution to threaten freedoms associated with the liberal west: on Tuesday, Yelena Mizulina, the woman responsible for Russia’s anti-“gay propaganda” law, proposed legislation barring trans people from adopting children, or from establishing families – including getting married – after transitioning.

For the first time since 1918, “God” is written into Russia’s constitution, which now also mandates the teaching of “patriotism”, and urges citizens to resist (western) falsification of their history. “We are not just going to vote on legal amendments,” Putin said. “We are voting for the country in which we want to live.”

For which read: not Europe. Leaders like Putin, Orbán and Duda use LGBTQ+ people to draw what can be called a pink line against a western secular liberalism that allegedly threatens the “traditional values” of the homeland. This plays on deep-rooted anxieties about globalisation and the digital revolution, and the fear of a loss of control that comes with the opening of borders to new ideas and new people – or, in the case of LGBTQ+ people, those who have been there all along, but now demand to be seen.

This culture wars tactic has undergone a significant shift in recent years: whereas it used to oppose “lifestyles” or “rights”, it is now sets itself against “ideology”; this allows it to assume the status of a counter-hegemonic force – and also to claim, as more people come out of the closet, that it is “not personal”. “LGBT are not people, but ideology,” said Duda when he launched his charter.

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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1 Response to Attack Of God’s Art Squad

  1. Reblogged this on Rosamond Press and commented:

    Beware! Big Brother Bubba is counting on YOU troublemakers to further divide the Nation with threats of violence.

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