William Barr’s private army

Images like the one above have been making their way around the internet today — images of heavily armed men blocking streets in Washington, DC — men with no unit insignia — men with no name badges — men who are apparently refusing to tell people under whose authority they are blocking people. And, understandably, these images are freaking a lot of people the fuck out. As U.S. Naval War College professor Tom Nichols just wrote on social media, “No American should ever face law enforcement personnel, at any level, who do not identify themselves or wear insignia. This is atrocious.” And it is. It’s bad enough that we have the National Guard firing rubber bullets at peaceful protestors, and military police surrounding the Lincoln Memorial, but now we’ve apparently got unidentifiable paramilitary troops widening the no-go zone around the White House. Here’s video.

As former FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force member Clint Watts asks, “Do we even know if they are law enforcement? Who are these guys? (Who do they) report to? (What’s their) authority to enforce anything? What happens if they injure or kill someone? If I’m a citizen, am I required to do anything these people say?

While there are a number of theories as to who these men are, the most likely explanation that I’ve heard points back to this June 1 article about Trump administration Attorney General Bill Barr directing the Federal Bureau of Prisons to dispatch riot teams to DC in order to help stop the activities of “anarchistic and far-left extremists.” Assuming this is, in fact, the case, and these are officers from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, one wonders why they would have removed the insignias from their uniforms?

update: OK, it looks as though they are from the Bureau of Prisons. Here’s an explanation from former Senior Border Patrol Agent Jenn Budd.

“1) Bureau of Prisons as guards at White House explanation: So it’s a bit tricky. DC is “special” because it’s not actually a state. But Bureau of Prisons is under Dept of Justice which is led by Bill Barr, the Attorney General. Can he order them to guard the White House? Yes. 2) Are they trained as peace officers? No. So whatever happens would be argued in court. I don’t suggest protesters test.”

So, yeah, it looks as though Bill Barr has his brought his own private army to DC.

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Mattis joins Mullen in speaking out, warning America of what may come next, if Trump isn’t stopped

Yesterday, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas issued a statement saying that the only response to the “violent anarchists and insurrectionists” protesting in America’s cities was an “overwhelming display of force.” And, today, in the New York Times, he elaborated, saying that the U.S. military needed to be deployed across the United States against those whom he referred to as “nihilist criminals” and “left-wing radicals”. And, of course, Donald Trump retweeted the Senator’s appeal to violence. Thankfully, however, others are beginning to speak out about the growing authoritarianism of the Trump administration. Yesterday it was George W. Bush-appointed former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen warning of our military being “co-opted for political purposes,” and today it was Trump’s own former Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis, who publicly shared his view that Donald Trump is a threat to our Constitution. Here’s his statement.

I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled. The words “Equal Justice Under Law” are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation.

When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.

We must reject any thinking of our cities as a “battlespace” that our uniformed military is called upon to “dominate.” At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict—between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part. Keeping public order rests with civilian state and local leaders who best understand their communities and are answerable to them.

James Madison wrote in Federalist 14 that “America united with a handful of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more forbidding posture to foreign ambition than America disunited, with a hundred thousand veterans ready for combat.” We do not need to militarize our response to protests. We need to unite around a common purpose. And it starts by guaranteeing that all of us are equal before the law.

Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that “The Nazi slogan for destroying us…was ‘Divide and Conquer.’ Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.’” We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis—confident that we are better than our politics.

Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.

We can come through this trying time stronger, and with a renewed sense of purpose and respect for one another. The pandemic has shown us that it is not only our troops who are willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice for the safety of the community. Americans in hospitals, grocery stores, post offices, and elsewhere have put their lives on the line in order to serve their fellow citizens and their country. We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution. At the same time, we must remember Lincoln’s “better angels,” and listen to them, as we work to unite.

Only by adopting a new path—which means, in truth, returning to the original path of our founding ideals—will we again be a country admired and respected at home and abroad.

And, yes, that was United States Marine Corps four-star general James N. Mattis drawing a comparison between Donald Trump and the Nazis.

One would hope that the Republicans would listen, and start to take meaningful action against Trump soon, before it’s too late.

Earlier today, a Monmouth University poll came out showing that Joe Biden currently holds an 11-point nationwide lead over Donald Trump among registered voters. And that lead isn’t just in blue states. A new Fox News poll is showing Biden well ahead in Arizona. And Quinnipiac is showing Texas neck-and-neck, with Trump just up by one point. Biden, according to the polls, is doing significantly better than either Obama or Clinton at this point in the campaign, and one would think, that has to have Republicans nervous, not just about the results of the 2020 election, but about what Trump may be willing to do in order to stay in power. And I think that’s why people like Mullen and Mattis, who have been quiet all this time, have finally decided to speak up. They can see the writing on the wall. They know who Donald Trump is. They know what he’s capable of. And they know that there’s nothing he wouldn’t do to stay in power, even if it meant shredding the Constitution and doing irreparable harm to our democratic institutions and the very fabric of our civil society. These are smart men, and they know that they can’t be silent any longer. And that should scare the fucking shit out of us.

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A former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warns of the President’s use of the military, saying, “I am deeply worried that as they execute their orders, the members of our military will be co-opted for political purposes.”

[above: Military police block peaceful civil rights protesters from approaching the Lincoln Memorial on the day that Donald “don’t be too nice” Trump declares that his administration “has done more for the black community than any president since Abraham Lincoln.”]

There are a lot of different ways that I could take things this evening, but let’s start with the following editorial, which was published this evening by The Atlantic. Its author, our nation’s 17th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired United States Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, I think, does a pretty good job of detailing where we find ourselves today. [Mullen was appointed to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by President George W. Bush.]

It sickened me yesterday to see security personnel—including members of the National Guard—forcibly and violently clear a path through Lafayette Square to accommodate the president’s visit outside St. John’s Church. I have to date been reticent to speak out on issues surrounding President Trump’s leadership, but we are at an inflection point, and the events of the past few weeks have made it impossible to remain silent.

Whatever Trump’s goal in conducting his visit, he laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country, gave succor to the leaders of other countries who take comfort in our domestic strife, and risked further politicizing the men and women of our armed forces.

There was little good in the stunt.

While no one should ever condone the violence, vandalism, and looting that has exploded across our city streets, neither should anyone lose sight of the larger and deeper concerns about institutional racism that have ignited this rage.

As a white man, I cannot claim perfect understanding of the fear and anger that African Americans feel today. But as someone who has been around for a while, I know enough—and I’ve seen enough—to understand that those feelings are real and that they are all too painfully founded.

We must, as citizens, address head-on the issue of police brutality and sustained injustices against the African American community. We must, as citizens, support and defend the right—indeed, the solemn obligation—to peacefully assemble and to be heard. These are not mutually exclusive pursuits.

And neither of these pursuits will be made easier or safer by an overly aggressive use of our military, active duty or National Guard. The United States has a long and, to be fair, sometimes troubled history of using the armed forces to enforce domestic laws. The issue for us today is not whether this authority exists, but whether it will be wisely administered.

I remain confident in the professionalism of our men and women in uniform. They will serve with skill and with compassion. They will obey lawful orders. But I am less confident in the soundness of the orders they will be given by this commander in chief, and I am not convinced that the conditions on our streets, as bad as they are, have risen to the level that justifies a heavy reliance on military troops. Certainly, we have not crossed the threshold that would make it appropriate to invoke the provisions of the Insurrection Act.

Furthermore, I am deeply worried that as they execute their orders, the members of our military will be co-opted for political purposes.

Even in the midst of the carnage we are witnessing, we must endeavor to see American cities and towns as our homes and our neighborhoods. They are not “battle spaces” to be dominated, and must never become so.

We must ensure that African Americans—indeed, all Americans—are given the same rights under the Constitution, the same justice under the law, and the same consideration we give to members of our own family. Our fellow citizens are not the enemy, and must never become so.

Too many foreign and domestic policy choices have become militarized; too many military missions have become politicized.

This is not the time for stunts. This is the time for leadership.

I was hopeful that, when I awoke this morning, I’d see other Republicans, and Republican appointees, coming off the sidelines to express their anger and concern over what Donald Trump had done, when he had the National Guard clear a path for him by firing rubber bullets and tear gas into a crowd of peaceful protesters, so that he could stand on the steps of a church that he hadn’t been invited to, to film a campaign ad holding a Bible. Sadly, very few Republicans on Capitol Hill have had the courage to speak up, though. Senator Lisa Murkowski said, “It’s not the America I know,” And Ben Sasse made a tepid statement, but, otherwise, the silence was deafening. Here, if you’re interested, are a few notable examples of Republican leaders refusing to comment on the President’s dangerous, authoritarian stunt. [Black Republican House member Will Hurd marched in a Texas protest, but I don’t think he spoke up about what Trump had done.]

No, for the most part, people on the right just made excuses for Donald Trump, or tried to distance themselves from what he’d done. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who was with Trump for the photo-op at St. John’s Church, for instance, laughably claimed that he “didn’t know” where he was going, as they walked through Lafayette Square to have their photos taken. And the folks on Fox News made the case that Trump had no choice but to have peaceful protesters cleared away, as they surely would have turned violent, if given the opportunity.

When I finally went to sleep last night, I though that maybe we’d reached a kind of inflection point, where those, like Mike Mullen, who had been silent for so long, might come out en masse, and make it known that they’d finally had enough. But, so far, with a few exceptions, it’s just been more of the same.

Speaking of Republicans not taking the opportunity to do the right thing, the Democrats tried to pass a resolution today condemning Trump’s unconstitutional attack against peaceful protesters yesterday, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the resolution. Here, if you’re wondering what it said, is the gist of it.

This isn’t over. Things may continue to build. If you haven’t contacted your elected officials in a while, I’d suggest that now might be a good time to find their numbers and give them a call.

Oh… Donald Trump just tweeted that the peaceful protesters that were fired upon weren’t really peaceful, and that everyone loved his photo-op at the church. “You got it wrong!,” he tweeted. “If the protesters were so peaceful, why did they light the Church on fire the night before? People liked my walk to this historic place of worship!

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Taking another step toward martial law, police fire rubber bullets into a crowd of peaceful protesters in D.C. to clear the way for a presidential photo-op with a Bible

[above: Donald Trump makes his way past a wall of “Fuck Trump” graffiti for a photo-op in front of Washington’s St. John’s church.]

Declaring himself a “president of law and order” in the White House Rose Garden this evening, Donald Trump threatened to deploy the United States military against U.S. citizen in order to put down the uprisings that have been spreading across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis. Citing what he referred to as “acts of domestic terror,” the President said, “If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.” And, with that, Donald Trump began walking to the recently fire-damaged St. John’s Church for an awkward photo-op with a Bible.

It should be noted that, just prior to this, the U.S. National Guard and officers from several regional police departments had been deployed to clear a peaceful protest in Lafayette Square, making it possible for Donald Trump to make his way from the White House to the church. Officers had accomplished this by firing rubber bullets and tear gas canisters into the crowd of peaceful protesters. Ironically, this was happening at roughly the same time that Donald Trump, in the Rose Garden, had identified himself as an “ally of all peaceful protestors.” Here’s footage from Lafayette Square.

In a more normal time, with more confident, secure and legitimate president, I imagine this might have played out differently. I can imagine, for instance, that a president, after having given the situation a little thought, might invite a family member of George Floyd’s to the White House, or perhaps consult with a well-respected civil rights icon, like John Lewis. Maybe they’d even call all of the living former U.S. presidents back together to present a unified front, and make a collective appeal to the people of the United States to remain calm. Or, maybe, like Biden did yesterday, another president might actually engage protesters face-to-face. But Donald Trump chose to do none of those things. Instead, after staying out of sight for several days, he choose to threaten martial law as sounds of exploding tear gas canisters reverberated in the distance. But that really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. We’ve all known that this day would come, and how Trump would respond. As the Atlantic’s Adam Serwer just said, “Trump thinks violence and strength are the same thing, so he is incapable of envisioning a solutions to problems that do not involve more violence.”

For what it’s worth — and this also shouldn’t surprise anyone — Donald Trump didn’t go into St. John’s Church, or meet with their congregation to offer his sympathy. He didn’t even tell them first that he would be coming to take a photo. He just showed up with his film crew, waved a Bible, and had his photo taken. [You can be sure this will show up in his reelection ads.] When asked about this, Bishop Marian Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of D.C. said, “What we are witnessing now is the shredding of our national fabric.” She then went on to say, “Everything he has said and done is to inflame violence.” [Trump, it should be noted, also handled the Bible like he was a San bushman of the Kalahari holding a Coke bottle for the first time.]

update: The President of the United States just retweeted a post calling for the strafing of American citizens.

update: And here’s the finished product. This is what peaceful American protestors were shot with rubber bullets for.

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For what it’s worth, anti-fascists aren’t the problem

Today, Donald Trump announced that, “The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a terrorist organization.” This is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that there isn’t an actual anti-fascist organization in America by the name of ANTIFA that people belong to. It’s not like the KKK, or the Aryan Brotherhood, or the National Socialist Movement, or the Proud Boys, for instance — none of which, by the way, has the President suggested be labeled as terrorist organizations, even though they actually are. No, when Donald Trump says “ANTIFA” (short for “anti fascist”), he’s just using it as a broad, catch-all label that could conceivably be applied to anyone who take to the street against his administration, from protesters who find themselves blocking the advancement of police lines to journalists shooting video of things the police don’t want shown.

I have a lot more to say, but it’s going to have to wait until tomorrow. For now, though, I just wanted to make you aware of the fact that Donald Trump has come out and officially stated that the real problem in American isn’t our organized and increasingly active white nationalist hate groups, but those he perceives to be anti-fascists. [And, yes, calling his adversaries “anti-fascists” would, by definition, make him a fascist.] Oh, and speaking of racism is America, White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, when asked today if racism is a problem in America, responded, “No, I don’t think there’s systemic racism.”

For what it’s worth, I don’t like that people are smashing windows and burning buildings. I certainly understand it, but I don’t like it. Like civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis, I’d prefer that people, “Organize. Demonstrate. Sit-in. Stand-up. Vote. Be constructive.” With that said, though, I’d rather see video of a dozen windows being broken than one of a cop flashing a white power hand sign during a riot.

One last thing. Having spent the past few days watching police violence erupt nationwide, it made me happy today to see Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson taking off his riot gear today, and marching alongside protesters in Flint. I found it a welcome relief after all the stories of police storming medical tents, and videos of people being assaulted by officers while standing on their own porches, and sitting in their own cars.

This is what real leadership looks like. Leadership isn’t hiding from the press in the basement of the White House while members of the administration tell reporters that you’ve already made “very eloquent remarks.” Leadership is engaging with people, having difficult conversations, and trying to find a path forward, not just tweeting out “LAW & ORDER!” from your basement. [I’m waiting for him to tweet out #WhitePropertyMatters.] And, with that said, I’ll leave you with this photo of Joe Biden, who was on the street in Wilmington, Delaware today, talking with protesters.

update: From The Washington Post White House Bureau Chief Philip Rucker: “Trump and some of his advisers calculated that he should not speak to the nation because he had nothing to say… He had no tangible policy or action to announce, nor did he feel an urgent motivation to try to bring people together. So he stayed silent.”

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