Trump Has Brought America’s Dirty Wars HomeRoundup
tags: Cold War, counterinsurgency, authoritarianism, policing
Stuart Schrader is a lecturer in sociology at Johns Hopkins University and the author of Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing.
In 1963, the U.S. Agency for International Development released a training film for police called First Line of Defense. Designed to teach cops from Third World countries how to recognize the signs of an impending Communist revolution—and to repress this political subversion with alacrity—it depicts an ersatz Communist gang that arrives on the scene by covering the city with graffiti. The film makes it clear that without a targeted defensive intervention by police, this limited misrule could be the first fitful step in a full-blown guerrilla insurgency. Otherwise a sober and didactic affair, the film contained one joke. The gang’s symbol, daubed on city walls, was “O/PS,” which also happened to be the name of the outfit behind the film, the Office of Public Safety, the CIA-linked foreign police training arm of the U.S. government at the height of the Cold War.
In mid-June, when the Trump administration rolled out its executive order in support of law enforcement, the White House referred to police as the “first line of defense here at home.” Ten days later, another executive order proclaimed that “American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues” must be protected from dangerous “Anarchists and left-wing extremists.” Although the orders read more like executive branch shit-posts, these laid the foundation for the Trump administration to use federal law enforcement officers to wage new domestic war against civilians.
Just like in the First Line of Defense film, it all started with graffiti. In a bulleted timeline of its domination of the Portland, Oregon, battle space, the Department of Homeland Security announced repeatedly, “Violent anarchists graffitied.…”
This refrain, where violence comes from the nozzle of an aerosol can, might seem like another joke, but the consequences are dangerous. Heavily armed federal officers protecting a courthouse from vandalism have been firing projectiles at protesters, causing grievous injuries. These special officers, mum when asked to identify themselves but employed by Customs and Border Protection, wear camouflage fatigues, helmets, and tactical gear. They carry a range of weapons, including chemical irritants and sound cannons. Most chillingly, they have been driving unmarked minivans like a gang of particularly aggro soccer moms. The officers have been recorded forcing seemingly random detainees into a van, which immediately speeds away. Mark Pettibone, a protester who was snatched off the street in this fashion but released, reported that these masked officers never identified themselves.
President Trump, in turn, is feeding this show of force into his reelection rhetoric, campaigning as the last line of defense against violent anarchists. Portland has served as his laboratory for a range of radical law enforcement tactics, with the promise that other cities will soon play host to the same demonstration of state-sponsored force. The cities need an approach like the one the United States took in Afghanistan, Trump muses, because their mayors, like the militants, are too “left-wing.”
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