With secret police, Trump’s practicing fascism in the streets of our cities
Trump's secret police in Portland, Oregon | Beth Nakamura/AP

Camouflaged secret police turned loose on U.S. citizens in Portland, Oregon, in recent days are likely indicative of what the Trump administration has in store for the entire nation.

What started out as the use of dog whistles to racists and fascists early in the administration and soon graduated to trumpets is now unfolding as the actual practice of fascism on the streets of American cities.

There were clear signs of the direct use of fascist tactics last month as the nation and the world viewed the horrific actions of militarized police forces during the protests against the murder of George Floyd.

Then, first in Washington, D.C., there were reports of unidentified camouflaged troops showing up to instigate violent attacks on peaceful demonstrators.

At first, some thought they could be right-wing militias doing the authorities’ dirty work, but it quickly became obvious that they were unidentified secret military-type police dispatched by the Trump administration.

Now the Trump administration admits that it has sent into Portland nameless unidentifiable troops from the Department of Homeland Security (HHS) to kidnap and jail Black Lives Matter and other peaceful demonstrators. Furthermore, Trump threatened today that his secret police could be on their way to Chicago, New York, and other cities across the nation. “We’re not going to let anarchy take over our American cities,” he said on MSNBC early this afternoon. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon quickly responded that he wished “President Trump would be attacking the coronavirus the way he is attacking civil liberties.”

This latest turn to open fascism by the Trump administration is widely seen as the most dramatic turn in that direction since his election.

The Trump secret police have been driving around Portland in unmarked vans since at least July 14. Personal accounts of people on the streets, news reporters, and many videos posted online confirm that they have been driving up to people, kidnapping them off the streets, and providing no information to them about why they are being detained. The vans drive off with the victims, who often wake up in jail cells, the location of which they have no idea. The blindfolded victims are then often dumped back out on the street with no explanation of why they were detained.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley have condemned the actions of the secret police and demanded their removal from the city. They say that peaceful demonstrations that have actually been dwindling in number have now, in reaction to the fascist patrols, ramped up all over again. Merkley has called for a federal-level investigation.

Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf has refused to “remove all federal officers from our streets,” which Gov. Brown has demanded, claiming falsely that Portland “has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob.”

Brown has declared that the Trump administration “is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes. He is putting both Oregonians and local law enforcement officers in harm’s way. This, coming from the same president who used tear gas to clear out peaceful protesters in Washington, D.C., to engineer a photo opportunity.”

One of Trump’s secret policemen shot a Portland protester in the head, fracturing his skull. The protester had to be hospitalized with a tube inserted into his skull to drain the bleeding from his brain. The shooting is what prompted both Sen. Merkley and his counterpart, Sen. Ron Wyden, to demand an investigation.

Another man, Mark Pettibone, was walking in downtown Portland when he saw the secret police, whom he could not identify as either police or right-wing militia because of their unmarked uniforms. They kidnapped him off the street and detained him.

“I just happened to be wearing black on a sidewalk in downtown Portland at the time. And that apparently is grounds for detaining me.”

Juniper Simonis, a volunteer medic, told Buzzfeed News that he was with his friend when the secret police grabbed them, forcing them into custody, separating them from their service dog. The two were accused of using chalk on a sidewalk. After they were grabbed, they were “punished” by being sprayed at close range with OC gas.

“They jumped me and assaulted me without any legal or verbal communication to me about being under arrest, or telling me to stop. They’re snatching people and asking questions later.”

The New York Times reported that it was told by a demonstrator: “One of the officers said, ‘It’s OK, it’s OK,’ and just grabbed me and threw me into the van. Another officer pulled my beanie down, so I couldn’t see. I was terrified. It seemed like it was out of a horror/sci-fi like a Philip K. Dick novel. It was like being preyed upon.”

The Times further reported:

“The tactical agents deployed by Homeland Security include officials from a group known as BORTAC, the Border Patrol’s equivalent of a SWAT team, a highly-trained group that normally is tasked with investigating drug smuggling organizations as opposed to protesters in cities.”

BORTAC is also the same outfit tasked with supporting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in immigration sweeps.

Merkley said on Saturday he will introduce an amendment prohibiting the Trump administration from deploying federal law enforcement in the streets of U.S. cities.

In a related matter on Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon sued the DHS and the U.S. Marshals Service on behalf of recently assaulted legal observers and journalists.

Interim legal director Kelly Simon stated in a press release:

“This is a fight to save our democracy. Under the direction of the Trump administration, federal agents are terrorizing the community, risking lives, and brutally attacking protesters demonstrating against police brutality. This is police escalation on top of police escalation.”

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has followed suit, suing DHS, the U.S. Marshals Service, CBP, and the Federal Protection Service for illegally detaining citizens without probable cause.

Fascism is not something that takes hold overnight. Even in the days of Hitler’s ascension to power, the process was often gradual. In Germany, for example, the resistance in what Hitler called “Red Berlin” held on longer than in other parts of the country.

Racist dog whistles, racist trumpets, militarized police, attacks on journalists and legal observers, new rounds of vote suppression, and secret police on the streets are all progressive steps that gradually accustom Americans to a push toward fascism in this country.

Some are asking whether the use of secret police in U.S. cities by Trump could portend a declaration of martial law or worse if he loses the election in November. When we see how quickly Trump went from dog whistles to secret police patrols, it is not then an unreasonable question.

The fascist-like push by Republicans to crank up the stripping of voters from the rolls is underway full steam now and parallel to the deployment of secret police.

Regardless of Trump’s ultimate plans, however, the forces in the U.S. that would be happy with a police state are dangerously positioned to increase their influence. A massive rejection of Trump and Trumpism on Nov. 3 will be needed to put them in their place—far from any position they can use for their work of destroying democracy altogether.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.