Trump mobilized 2,100 National Guard members and then, days before the election, 5,200 active-duty U.S. troops. He declared a national emergency and told voters to “blame the Democrats.” The voters didn’t fall for the phony crisis, and the caravan menace fizzled.
Now another electoral reckoning approaches, and Trump is following the same script. This time, he proclaims that “sick and deranged Anarchists & Agitators” in Portland, Ore., and Seattle seek to “destroy our American cities, and worse.”
Instead of using the troops again as his political props, Trump is now mobilizing armed federal police from the Justice and Homeland Security departments — and claiming that “cities would burn” if Democrats won the election.
There are two differences this time, though. The military deployment in 2018, though wasteful, did little harm. But the current deployment of federal police to Portland has provoked a dramatic increase both in peaceful protests and in violence — tensions had been subsiding before Trump’s escalation — and rekindled unrest nationwide.
The other difference: In 2018, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis restricted troops to a supporting role on the border to avoid constitutional violations. But the man leading the current provocation, Attorney General Bill Barr, displays no scruples as he whips up violence in service of Trump’s reelection.
“What unfolds nightly around the [Portland] courthouse cannot reasonably be called a protest; it is, by any objective measure, an assault on the government of the United States,” Barr testified to the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Repeatedly blurring the distinction between the masses of peaceful, racial-justice demonstrators and the small band of violent vandals, Barr said peaceful demonstrators in Lafayette Square hit with chemical agents, stun grenades and rubber bullets had been “unruly.” Pressed about the many times force has been used against nonviolent demonstrators, he declared that “protesters” — he made quotation marks with his fingers — “are not following police directions.” He justified the use of weapons against peaceful demonstrators by saying “it’s hard to separate” them from the criminals.
He dismissed the idea that there is systemic racism in policing, alleged that police use deadly force more often against white men than black men (black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police) and blamed racial-justice protests for a spike in violence: “When a community turns on and pillories its own police, officers naturally become more risk-averse and crime rates soar. Unfortunately, we are seeing that now in many of our major cities.”
He spoke of a “mob” using “slingshots, tasers, sledgehammers, saws, knives, rifles and explosive devices” to attack federal officers serving on a strictly “defensive mission” — omitting mention of federal officers throwing nonviolent demonstrators into unmarked vans for questioning without probable cause. And he repeatedly scolded Democrats for “not coming out and condemning mob violence,” even as Democrats on the panel did just that.
But then, Barr, like his boss, is not a stickler for facts. Last week, he said of the administration’s Operation Legend, which forces federal police into U.S. cities: “The FBI went in very strong into Kansas City, and within two weeks we’ve had 200 arrests.”
The actual number of arrests in that period? One.
Barr sounded as if he were channeling Trump’s Twitter account as he denounced “the bogus Russiagate scandal,” defended Trump’s pardon of Roger Stone after Stone refused to incriminate Trump, defended the attempted dismissal of Michael Flynn’s guilty plea, defended the imprisonment of Michael Cohen after he refused to disavow criticism of Trump, defended the dismissal of the prosecutor overseeing investigations of Rudolph W. Giuliani, defended the baseless allegation that voting by mail is fraudulent, and defended armed, right-wing protesters who invaded the Michigan Capitol and called for killing the governor. (They were against “crazy rules.”) He even defended Trump’s handling of the pandemic as “superb," while blaming the Obama administration.
Barr made no attempt to hide his contempt for the Democratic majority, telling them “I think I speak English” and “I’m going to answer the damn question,” and frequently speaking over, and occasionally laughing at, the lawmakers. The disrespect was mutual: Chairman Jerry Nadler attempted to deny Barr a five-minute bathroom break.
“You’re a real class act,” the attorney general told the chairman.
Barr knows about class. He uses federal police powers to deny peaceful Americans their constitutional rights while fomenting violence among hoodlums — all to revive Trump’s reelection bid.
This time, there really is a caravan “putting our country in great danger” — and Barr leads it.
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