Police gather in Portland.

A Big Day for Fascism: Federal Officers Are Reportedly Arresting Portland Protesters in Unmarked Vans

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There’s a truly terrifying scene happening in Portland, Oregon right now. After nearly two months of nightly protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd and so many others, Donald Trump ordered federal officers to be sent into the city, against the wishes of the mayor and the state’s governor.

What’s unfolded are reports of groups of these officers in unidentifiable, vaguely police-like outfits attacking protesters with tear gas and shooting them, often in the head, with rubber bullets (which, despite the name, can cause devastating and permanent injuries). These secret police forces have reportedly been rounding up protesters and arresting them in unmarked cars and vans.

The Washington Post interviewed a man who was arrested by a gray minivan full of these pseudo-cops:

Pettibone said he still does not know who arrested him or whether what happened to him legally qualifies as an arrest. The federal officers who snatched him off the street as he was walking home from a peaceful protest did not tell him why he had been detained or provide him any record of an arrest, he told The Post. As far as he knows, he has not been charged with any crimes.

As that man noted, when a group of men in camo jump out of a minivan, it’s difficult to know who they are. Right-wing extremists have been known to don paramilitary gear to harass or assault protesters.

If you’re wondering what drove Trump to send in these forces despite the local government’s wishes, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, used Twitter to share examples of the “violent extremism” he saw in the city.

And by “violent extremism,” he means graffiti.

Just to be clear, you cannot enact violence on a wall. The wall cannot feel pain or have its rights violated.

As if this sort of fascist invasion of just one major U.S. city weren’t terrifying enough, no one seems to believe that this is where it will stop. For weeks, Trump has been threatening to send federal forces into cities and states with Democratic leadership who he accuses of not being “tough” enough on protesters. Just this week, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh NcEnany called Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot a “derelict” and said she “should step up and ask for federal help because she’s doing a very poor job at securing her streets.” (Lightfoot responded by calling McEnany a “Karen” and I see no lies in that statement.)

In Kansas City, Missouri, more than 200 federal agents are on their way to help quell a “surge of violent crime.” This move, called “Operation Legend,” is ostensibly to address the city’s unusually high murder rate this year, but protests have also continued since the end of May and a lot of locals (of which I am one) aren’t exactly trusting that what is happening in Portland won’t happen here next—especially since the city’s mayor seems not to have been consulted before the federal intervention was announced.

Talking to the Washington Post, Zakir Khan, a spokesman for the Oregon chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said that he absolutely thinks Portland is a “test case” for other cities. “They want to see what they can get away with before launching into other parts of the country.”

(image: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.