In the wake of the controversy over the Department of Homeland Security’s siege on Portland utilizing shadowy federal forces, it’s no surprise that Arkansas senator Tom Cotton is in the vanguard defending this operation. He is, generally speaking, the leader of the protofascist wing of the Republican Party, eager to deploy lethal violence at home or abroad to vindicate his stern views on how people ought to behave. His eagerness to send U.S. troops into American cities to bust heads and restore “order” during the protests over the police killing of George Floyd makes him a natural proponent of the shadowy paramilitary operations in Portland. And as you might expect, his characterization of the threat posed to the country by Portland protesters is way over the top:
The idea here is that the secessionists damaged Fort Sumter by firing on it, and the graffiti artists of Portland damaged federal property by spray-painting anti-police slogans on courthouses. Presumably, the feds would be justified in sending whole armies into Portland to restore the Union.
It doesn’t take a great deal of historical perspective to detect the absurdity of comparing the seven state governments that had already seceded prior to the attack on Fort Sumter to the ragtag band of arsonists operating within a 12-block area of one American city. For one thing, the Confederates were determined to win their “independence” no matter what it took. The Portland protests might have petered out had the DHS bullyboys stayed away, as the Washington Post’s Katie Shepherd suggests:
[A]fter weeks of nightly standoffs, Portland’s protests calmed in late June, with fewer major confrontations with police. A judge ordered local police on June 9 to largely halt the use of tear gas, and that order was expanded to include other munitions on June 26. A new state law further limited tear gas to be used only during riots. The crowds shrank. Music and barbecues in a park across the street from the federal courthouse became a nightly event.
Then federal officers showed up in the city in early July and the demonstrations grew more heated than ever.
“[Trump] is accusing the local government of not being able to do what he could do easily,” Norm Stamper, the former police chief of Seattle from 1994 to 2000, told the Post. “I believe it’s safe to say it has backfired.”
It has backfired in part precisely because the Trump administration is treating Oregon as if it’s South Carolina circa 1861. As former U.S. attorney Barbara McQuade explained to New York, the DHS operation is self-defeating in terms of keeping any sort of peace:
[L]aw-enforcement officers can never be successful if they are perceived as an occupying army. Law enforcement is a social compact between community and police to protect the peace. Policing agencies derive their power from the consensus of the governed. As a result, the best law-enforcement leaders spend countless hours meeting with community stakeholders, understanding their needs and using discretion to decide which arrests serve the best interests of the people. Overly aggressive tactics against certain groups can undermine the trust that is essential to serve effectively. Trust takes years to build and an instant to lose.
You get the sense that Tom Cotton has never seen an incident of civil unrest that he wouldn’t want to escalate into an opportunity for repression. And in that desire for a new Civil War, he is a faithful follower of the president, who clearly hopes to make pitched battles in the streets of our cities a device for energizing his electoral base heading toward November.