It doesn’t take a legal expert to know that what’s happening in Portland, Oregon is an abuse of power. When unidentified federal forces dressed as soldiers pull people off the streets into unmarked vans, something is gravely wrong. What’s less apparent is that this abuse is part of an ongoing effort by the administration to get around “posse comitatus”: the principle that the president cannot use the military as a domestic police force. The implications for the rule of law — and potentially for the 2020 election — are staggering.
The Department of Homeland Security personnel deployed in Portland are federal law enforcement agents, not members of the armed forces. But the evidence is mounting that they are not there to enforce the law. Instead, they are acting as a paramilitary wing to assist the president in his longstanding goal to (in his words) “take over” U.S. cities run by Democrats.
This goal dates back to the beginning of Trump’s presidency. Five days after his inauguration, he tweeted: “If Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible ‘carnage’ going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 216), I will send in the Feds!” (Three and a half years later, he’s about to get closer to carrying out his threat: He announced on Wednesday that he will send 200 federal agents to the city, plus 35 additional agents to Albuquerque.) He has issued similar threats periodically throughout his time in office.
But it was the protests that erupted across the country in response to the brutal police killing of George Floyd that finally gave the president his chance. At the president’s direction, the governors of 11 states (10 of them Republicans) sent their National Guard units into Washington, DC, where largely peaceful protests had been marred by isolated incidents of violence and looting. The deployment was over the objections of the city’s mayor, Muriel Bowser. [Continue reading…]