The Goon Squad Goes to Chicago

by Heather Cox Richardson

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July 20, 2020 (Monday)

The big news today—and it is indeed big news—is that the Trump administration has announced it will be sending federal officers into Chicago, and perhaps other cities run by Democrats, ostensibly to fight crime there.

The move mirrors what the administration has done in Portland, Oregon, where unidentified officers from Customs and Border Protection operating under Trump’s Executive Order to protect monuments and federal property have clashed with local protesters, sometimes grabbing them off the streets and forcing them into unmarked vans. They have fractured a man’s skull and broken another man’s hand; both men were protesting peacefully. The official Department of Homeland Security’s own list of complaints about what it calls “violent anarchists” runs heavily to graffiti and minor vandalism, which local police say they can handle without federal intervention.

“We’re looking at Chicago, too,” Trump said, “We’re looking at New York. All run by very liberal Democrats. All run, really, by the radical left.” He continued: “This is worse than anything anyone’s ever seen. And you know what? If Biden got in, that would be true for the country. The whole country would go to hell.” (While there has been a recent increase in criminal activity, in fact, most major cities have seen a long-term decrease in crime, especially violent crime.)

“We’re going to have more federal law enforcement, that I can tell you,” Trump said. “In Portland, they’ve done a fantastic job. They’ve been there three days and they really have done a fantastic job in a very short period of time, no problem.”

Chicago, though, has not seen the sustained protests that Portland has, and the administration is using a different justification to send federal law enforcement to the city. The Chicago deployment will be under “Operation Legend” of the Justice Department, announced July 8 by Attorney General William Barr. Operation Legend has authorized federal agents from the FBI, U.S. Marshal Service, DEA and ATF to go into U.S. cities “to help state and local officials fight the surge of violent crime.” The initiative is named for LeGend Taliferro, a four-year-old Kansas City victim of gun violence.

The scope of the deployment is unclear, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot opposes the move. “We don’t need federal agents without any insignia taking people off the streets and holding them, I think, unlawfully,” she said. If Trump truly wants to help Chicago, she said, he should focus on gun safety reforms and community development.

On Saturday, John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, wrote a public letter to Trump aligning his union with Trump instead of the city’s mayor. “I am certain you are aware of the chaos currently affecting our city on a regular basis now,” he wrote. “I am writing to formally ask you for help from the federal government. Mayor Lightfoot has proved to be a complete failure who is either unwilling or unable to maintain law and order here.”

It is interesting that the administration has gone after Chicago, a city with a Black female mayor. While we have focused on the administration’s ginning up of racism, it has also embraced the misogyny of right-wing media.

That connection became tragically clear last night when a self-described “anti-feminist” lawyer apparently shot the husband and son of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas in New Jersey, killing her son before shooting himself. The killer echoed talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s rants about “feminazis,” and in 2011 told the New York Times, “The feminists have taken control over every institution in this country — they want to take control over men.” In 2017, he sued media outlets, saying they were publishing “false and misleading reports” about Trump’s 2016 candidacy.

The misogyny of right-wing media was also in the news today as two women filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court, claiming that former Fox News Channel chief national correspondent Ed Henry raped one of them and accusing Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and other leading figures of sexual harassment. The Fox News Channel fired Henry on July 1, in anticipation of the lawsuit, and denies the other allegations.

For his part, Acting Director of Homeland Security Chad Wolf today dismissed the objections to federal intervention in Chicago or elsewhere. “I don’t need invitations by the state, state mayors, or state governors to do our job. We’re going to do that, whether they like us there or not.”

This, too, is an interesting angle on the federal deployment, since Wolf is not a confirmed member of the Cabinet. He was appointed as acting director on November 13, 2019, but Trump did not nominate him to become the director, so he has not received Senate confirmation in that position. He seems to be taking on a lot of power for someone who has not been confirmed by the Senate and who holds office under these circumstances.

There is other disturbing news from the Department of Homeland Security. Steve Vladeck and Benjamin Wittes broke the story on Lawfareblog today that DHS has authorized domestic surveillance, expanding intelligence collection “to mitigate the significant threat to homeland security” posed by “elevated threats targeting monuments, memorials, and statues.” That is, DHS is monitoring and collecting information on protesters, including their activities on social media.

The DHS memo does specify that officers cannot monitor activities “protected by the First Amendment or the lawful exercise of other Constitutional or legal rights, or for the purpose of suppressing or burdening criticism or dissent.” Nonetheless, Vladeck and Wittes point out that “it’s a pretty striking position for the federal government to be taking as a matter of both law and policy. Indeed, it’s difficult to understand the federal government’s interest in, or constitutional authority over, minor property damage to non-federal monuments on non-federal property.” It’s hard to see how damage to statues is enough of a threat to national security that it justifies gathering intelligence on Americans engaging in their constitutional right to protest.

The administration’s unprecedented development of a federal police force reflects that the U.S. military has refused to support Trump’s power grab. That refusal was in the news again on Friday, when even as the administration was defending Confederate statues, the Pentagon officially banned all displays of the Confederate flag on U.S. military property, including barracks and common areas. “Flags are powerful symbols, particularly in the military community for whom flags embody common mission, common histories, and the special, timeless bond of warriors,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper wrote in the memo. “The flags we fly must accord with the military imperatives of good order and discipline, treating all our people with dignity and respect, and rejecting divisive symbols.”

The administration’s attacks on Black protesters have actually gained power for the movement. Tonight the official account of Major League Baseball tweeted a photo of members of the San Francisco Giants kneeling during the national anthem along with the hashtag BlackLivesMatter. When users complained about their stance, the account user responded in a defense of the tactics that brought football quarterback Colin Kaepernick such anger from Trump and Pence. The administrator wrote: “It has never been about the military or the flag. The players and coaches are using their platforms to peacefully protest.”

Trump’s attempts to downplay the coronavirus are not getting the traction he wishes, either. The Washington Nationals baseball team has invited “Nats super-fan,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day, Thursday, July 23. “Dr. Fauci has been a true champion for our country during the Covid-19 pandemic and throughout his distinguished career, so it is only fitting that we honor him as we kick off the 2020 season and defend our World Series Championship title.” Fauci donned a Nationals face mask when he testified before a House Committee on the coronavirus.

Trump’s attempt to divert attention from the coronavirus and protests against police violence against Black Americans is not working. He is attempting to portray those who oppose him as violent criminals, and promises to bring back LAW & ORDER, as he repeatedly tweets. But it is not working. Only 33% of Americans approve of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and only 31% approve of his handling of race relations. And as for law and order: most people also trust Biden, rather than Trump, on that issue, too, by a margin of 49% to 42%.

And the federal intrusion into the cities appears to be backfiring. The crowds in Portland are increasing dramatically. Tonight the Wall of Moms waved their hands above their heads as they softly sang a new lullaby: “Hands up, please don’t shoot me.”

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