Imagine having a cop casually break a few bones in your hand and then give you a faceful of pepper spray for the crime of standing stock still in place, and you can’t even report him to his superiors because he’s unmarked. No name, no badge. No face, even, thanks to the gas mask. Just a man with a baton who thought you didn’t move quickly enough when he told you to and decided to send you to the hospital as a lesson.
The man in this Portland video is Christopher David.
A Navy veteran, he tells us he went to the protests for the first time to ask officers about the constitution.
He said his fingers are broken and he needs surgery.
— Mike Baker (@ByMikeBaker) July 19, 2020
What happened here? The man, Navy veteran Christopher David, claims it went down this way:
Just as he was about to leave, David said, the federal officers emerged. They rushed a line of protesters nearby, knocking them to the ground. David walked toward a gap in the line, calling out to the officers.
“Why are you not honoring your oath?” he bellowed. “Why are you not honoring your oath to the Constitution?”
An officer trained his weapon on David’s chest as several agents pushed him, sending David stumbling backward. But he regained his center and tried again. Another agent raised his baton and began to beat David, who stood unwavering with his arms at his sides. Then another officer unloaded a canister of chemical irritant spray into David’s face.
David claims he has a broken hand that’ll require surgery involving “pins, screws and plates.” He also claims, interestingly, that he wasn’t moved to come out and protest until he saw the footage circulating last week of federal agents dressed up as soldiers and moving around Portland with nothing to identify them except a DHS patch on their arms. DHS says that they have no choice but to be in Portland because the vandalism there won’t abate; local officials counter that the federal presence is antagonizing people with their tactics (military cosplay, using unmarked vehicles, tear gas) and bringing more out into the streets, making the situation worse. If David’s telling the truth, he’s a small piece of evidence that local officials are right. Relatedly, The Times acknowledges in this story that some demonstrators really are violent and include Antifa, but others include a group of moms wearing helmets calling on the feds to leave. Are normies starting to demonstrate too?
The reason the feds are there, ostensibly, is to protect federal property from vandalism. So why aren’t they stationed at those locations, in appropriate police gear like helmets and shields? Rand Paul is wondering too (while citing my post from last week):
We cannot give up liberty for security. Local law enforcement can and should be handling these situations in our cities but there is no place for federal troops or unidentified federal agents rounding people up at will. https://t.co/vkSHmlOzDW
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) July 20, 2020
Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, who helped create a police force in postwar Iraq, wrote this morning that he insisted that Iraqi officers wear police uniforms, not camouflage. He wanted to highlight three distinctions by doing so. Police keep the peace and aim to defuse conflict; soldiers aim to intimidate and to prosecute conflict to victory. Police need to be visible, as their presence alone can deter confrontation and crime; soldiers aim to be invisible and blend into their surroundings, to more effectively confront the enemy. Police need to be trained to be accountable because they often work alone or in pairs and can get away more easily with misconduct; soldiers work as part of a team within a rigid hierarchy and are watched at most times. Re-watch the video of the feds versus Christopher David. Which model seems closer to how they approached him?
Another reason why the feds may be handling their jobs badly in Portland is that they’re simply not trained for this type of job. At least, not the agents who are there right now:
The federal agents facing a growing backlash for their militarized approach to weeks of unrest in Portland were not specifically trained in riot control or mass demonstrations, an internal Department of Homeland Security memo warned this week…
The memo, seemingly anticipating future encounters with protesters in other cities as the department follows President Trump’s guidance to crack down on unrest, warns: “Moving forward, if this type of response is going to be the norm, specialized training and standardized equipment should be deployed to responding agencies.”
The tactical agents deployed by homeland security include officials from a group known as BORTAC, the Border Patrol’s equivalent of a SWAT team, a highly trained group that normally is tasked with investigating drug smuggling organizations, as opposed to protesters in cities.
A lingering question: Why is DHS involved here at all instead of the Department of Justice? Most federal law enforcement, starting with the FBI, operates as part of the DOJ. What’s the Border Patrol doing in the Pacific northwest? A recurring debate whenever Trump overreaches with executive power is whether it’s a one-off thing from which he’ll shrink back once he’s met with an outcry or whether it’s the start of some ominous new policy that he plans to implement more widely. The Lafayette Park operation in June seemed like it might be the start of a protracted federal effort to “get tough” with protesters, replete with Trump invoking the Insurrection Act, but that never happened. The same speculation has arisen over the Portland clusterfark, though. Is this a show of muscle by the president which he’ll back off from once he’s proved whatever point he’s trying to prove or is he planning to send “federal troops,” in Rand Paul’s phrase, to other cities? Hmmm:
"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.” — acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf pic.twitter.com/Rr2P8q6Ut1
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 20, 2020
Maybe DHS was tasked for this job rather than the DOJ because they’re a bit more willing to do whatever the president demands, ethical or not. Whenever the DOJ does something outre, like backing off Roger Stone’s sentence, there’s a wave of resignations and angry op-eds from within the department that embarrasses the White House. DHS may be more … compliant. Note too that all three top officers at the department are serving in an acting capacity, from Wolf to Ken Cuccinelli to the chief of staff. That makes them more accountable to Trump personally than they would be if they held their jobs via Senate confirmation. The Senate could confront Trump about that at any time and demand he submit his appointees for confirmation, but because they’re a disgrace and a national embarrassment they’re happy to acquiesce in this “acting” charade that Trump continues to indulge in.
As I say, the question now is whether DHS (and maybe not just DHS) intends to expand their activity in Portland to other cities — and to other activities. A piece at Lawfare today reports that a memo from the department’s Office of Intelligence & Analysis suggests that they’re collecting domestic intel on “threats targeting monuments, memorials, and statues,” and not necessarily just federal ones. Why should a threat to a statue justify a homeland security investigation instead of a state or FBI criminal probe? “The premise is alarming,” write the authors, “because it uses the cover of minor property damage, whether to federal property or otherwise, to justify intelligence gathering against ordinary Americans—most of whom have nothing to do with the underlying property damage, and many of whom are engaged in the most American of activities: peacefully protesting their government.”
It’s not just DHS either. The Bulwark reminds readers today about a DEA memo from May that authorizes agents to conduct “physical surveillance without identifying themselves, using technical surveillance techniques over crowds of individuals without suspicion of wrongdoing, and otherwise collecting intelligence—covertly—on individuals purposefully exercising their First Amendment rights,” in the words of author Carrie Cordero. “America has never had a purely domestic security service,” Cordero adds. Well, we’ve never had unidentified cops dressed as soldiers either, as far as I know, but we’re doing things very strongly, very powerfully now to protect our statues from, say, Navy veterans who aren’t actually threatening them or anything else. Anyway, lawsuits are coming.