In comments from the Oval Office on Monday, President Donald Trump intensified rising fears that his administration will deploy federal agents to Democrat-led cities across the country to replicate a widely condemned crackdown in Portland, Oregon that critics charge is not only authoritarian but part of the president's effort to win a second term by stoking division and chaos.
"Out in Portland, federal officers are waging war on protestors rightfully in the streets in defense of Black life... We cannot allow this to happen here or anywhere."
—Tiffany Cabán, WFP
Trump told reporters that in cities which have seen Black Lives Matter protests since Minneapolis police killed George Floyd in late May, police are "restricted from doing anything" and "weak" local politicians are "afraid" of demonstrators, whom he described as "anarchists" who "hate our country."
"I'm gonna do something, that I can tell you," the president said before naming New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, and Oakland as potential targets, echoing his remarks from the weekend. "We're not gonna let this happen in our country. All run by liberal Democrats."
Asked by a reporter whether he will send federal law enforcement to some of these cities, Trump said that "we'll have more federal law enforcement, that I can tell you. In Portland, they've done a fantastic job... in a very short period of time. No problem."
Politicians, journalists, activists, and advocacy groups responded with alarm to a video from The Hill of president's latest comments. Among the critics was Tiffany Cabán, a former Queens County's district attorney candidate in New York City who now works as a national political organizer with the Working Families Party (WFP).
Out in Portland, federal officers are waging war on protestors rightfully in the streets in defense of Black life. People are being attacked w war weapons. People are being disappeared under the cloak of night. We cannot allow this to happen here or anywhere. #BlackLivesMatter https://t.co/YoIMEibGc4
— Tiffany Cabán (@tiffany_caban) July 20, 2020
"Get ready, New York. We can't allow these fascist tactics in our city," Democratic New York State Sen. Mike Gianaris wrote on Twitter. He was far from alone in denouncing the administration's approach as fascist.
"Fascism coming to a city near you," tweeted writer Thor Benson, also sharing the video. Alex Kotch, an investigative reporter at the Center for Media and Democracy, similarly said: "Watch Fascism™ spread in real time!"
Brave New Films blasted Trump as "an authoritarian wanna-be dictator."
A president who incites violence against his *own* citizens is NOT a president.
Trump is an authoritarian wanna-be dictator.
Watch our film "Police Riots: Trump Declares War On The People" below https://t.co/gDv3NVleUC
— Brave New Films (@bravenewfilms) July 20, 2020
Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib—who represents Michigan's 13th Congressional District, which includes portions of Detroit—declared in a tweet that "they'll have to arrest me first if they think they're going to illegally lay their hands on my residents."
Charles Booker, who narrowly lost a Democratic primary race in Kentucky last month to take on Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, delivered a similar response on Twitter. He mentioned Breonna Taylor, who was shot to death in March by Louisville police officers while she was asleep in her home.
"We are standing against out of control government because of our love," Booker wrote. "We love Breonna, we love our home, we love our families, and we love ourselves. Trump and Mitch can spew hate all they want. We won't back down. If they set foot in Kentucky, they'll have to arrest me first."
We will hold the Trump administration and any such federal forces accountable for unconstitutional actions.
This is a fight to save our democracy against a reckless administration bent on terrorizing our communities and endangering lives. https://t.co/9JHl526eTp
— ACLU (@ACLU) July 20, 2020
In response to reporting earlier Monday by the Chicago Tribune that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) "is crafting plans to deploy about 150 federal agents" to the city this week, Colleen Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois, released a statement vowing to "hold the Trump administration and any such federal forces accountable for unconstitutional actions."
Connell said that "given the documented abuse in Portland by federal forces against the press and those protesting police killing of Black people, it is clear that we are in a fight to save our democracy against a reckless administration bent on terrorizing our communities and endangering lives."
"As our colleagues have seen in Portland, Trump's secret forces will terrorize communities and create chaos... This is an assault on the people of this country."
—Colleen Connell, ACLU of Illinois
"Make no mistake: Trump's federal troops will not be a constructive force in Chicago," she added. "As our colleagues have seen in Portland, Trump's secret forces will terrorize communities and create chaos. This is not law and order. This is an assault on the people of this country, and the specific protections of protest and press in the First Amendment."
After video footage and reporting from Portland started emerging last week of unidentified federal law enforcement driving around in unmarked vehicles and grabbing people off the streets, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) announced he would introduce an amendment to military spending legislation to block the Trump administration from sending agents to other cities.
The Nation reported Monday that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) will respond this week to the conditions in Portland by introducing legislation—a draft of which the outlet published—that "would require on-duty federal agents display not just the name of their agency, but the individual agent's last name and identification number."