Trump's strategy of tension
Violence is escalating on the streets of the United States, fuelled not least by the president.
Two months before the election, political violence on US streets escalates. After several deaths, the government promises to use all means to restore order.
by Paul Simon
[This article published on 9/3/2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://jungle.world/artikel/2020/36/trumps-strategie-der-spannung.]
"No one will be safe in Biden's America!" This was Donald Trump's message when he accepted the Republican Party's presidential nomination on August 27. The White House garden had been transformed into a stage for Trump's campaign show. The theme, for three days: Danger. Danger through crime, through China, through the supposedly radical agenda of the Democrats - and through "riots, looting, arson and violence" in the country's cities. For the Democrats, Trump warned, the United States is "a country full of racist, economic and social injustice.” "This election will determine whether we defend the American way of life or allow a radical movement to destroy it.”
More than 180,000 Covid 19 deaths are now recorded in the USA. Millions of people who lost their jobs this spring are waiting in vain for an economic recovery. While Democrats accuse President Trump of mismanagement in the pandemic, Republicans are flooding TV stations with election commercials designed to shock: "Violent radicals have taken over the cities!” Trump promised: "If the Democrats want to side with the anarchists, agitators, troublemakers, looters and flag burners, that's their business - I as your president will not go along with it.”
Since May, right-wing extremists have appeared 497 times in demonstrations against police violence, the Center for Analysis of the Radical Right documented.
As early as 2016, Trump had portrayed the Democratic Party as an existential threat to the country. This hit the apocalyptic mood of the right-wing conservative movement, which after eight years of Barack Obama's presidency felt that the country was slipping away from them. Since then, the political rhetoric of the right has continued to intensify. Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, represents the more conservative wing of the party. But the mass protests since the killing of George Floyd by a policeman in the spring, which repeatedly led to riots and looting, offer an opportunity to link the Democratic Party with radicalism and the breakdown of public order.
In early August, Attorney General William Barr warned of "a new form of urban guerilla fighting" in U.S. cities, a "Bolshevik" movement with "fascist tactics" that has grown stronger with the radicalization of the Democratic Party.
This paranoid rhetoric did not seem to ignite for a long time. The assassination of George Floyd had sent the support for the concerns of the "Black Lives Matter" movement to record levels. According to a study, between 15 and 26 million people took part in the spontaneous protests against police violence, and almost two-thirds of the population supported the cause. Biden was able to show solidarity with the protests without losing votes. But a series of violent acts last week again brought Trump's America to the fore: that of street fighting, civil war atmosphere and militias.
The day before Trump was named a candidate in Washington, D.C., 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse shot two people and seriously wounded another in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The 100,000-strong Midwestern city was the scene of days of protest after a police officer shot and killed African-American Jakob Blake. This also led to riots. Demonstrators set fire to stores and the prison. Rittenhouse had arrived from his nearby home town armed with a rifle together with other militiamen, apparently organized spontaneously via Facebook. Apparently he came into conflict with demonstrators: Videos show a Rittenhouse fleeing from partly armed pursuers, who shoots down several people with his assault rifle. The police arrested him only after he had left the city. There had been so many armed men in the city that he was not immediately recognizable as the perpetrator.
Kenosha, about 80 kilometers from Chicago, is a "city of contrasts," writes the Washington Post. "A diverse urban core is surrounded by more affluent, whiter suburbs and rural settlements where abandoned car factories stand alongside million-dollar lakeside homes and expensive stores. According to a nationwide survey, the city is located in a part of Wisconsin that is one of the worst places for African Americans to live because of large ethnic inequalities in income and detention rates. In 2018, the Sheriff of Kenosha said after arresting a few black shoplifters, "Some people are not worth saving.” They can only be "locked away" forever.
According to his social media profiles, Rittenhouse was influenced by the popular glorification of the police, which in the Trump era was also a kind of counter-movement to "Black Lives Matter" under the label "Blue Lives Matter". For the supporters of the existing police system, the fronts are clear: Trump is their man, the Democrats are their opponents. "The Obama administration and the chain-laying and repression of the police were despicable," said the leader of the Minneapolis police union at a Trump rally a year ago. Obama had tightened the Department of Justice's control over the police force because the federal government has little ability to implement nationwide police reform. Trump withdrew these reforms.
The origins of the right-wing extremist militia movement lie in the terrorism of the 1990s. For years, self-proclaimed patriotic vigilantes, often heavily armed, have been an everyday sight at demonstrations. "Are there patriots who are willing to take up arms and defend our city from the evil rioters," a Facebook group called Kenosha Guard asked the day before the violence.
Now Rittenhouse could become a martyr to this milieu. There were numerous expressions of solidarity on Facebook, and a crowdfunding campaign quickly raised a quarter of a million dollars. A team of lawyers, who had previously represented personalities from Trump's circle, took Rittenhouse under their wings and tried to portray him as a victim of left-wing violence who had acted in self-defense. "How shocked can we be that 17-year-olds with guns decide they need to maintain order when no one else does," Fox News star Tucker Carlson asked after Rittenhouse's arrest.
Since 2016 there have been repeated street fights between right-wing extremist militias and anti-fascists. During the protests against police violence, this turned into a greater threat: Since May, right-wing extremists have appeared 497 times in demonstrations, documented by the Center for Analysis of the Radical Right. There have been 64 physical assaults and 38 attacks with cars, nine shots have been fired and three people have been killed. Numerous cases have been documented in which police officers acted together with militiamen or extreme right-wing groups. Recently, former FBI agent Michael German analyzed hundreds of cases of police officers involved in racist and right-wing extremist activities in a comprehensive report. For years, right-wing extremist terrorism has been the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States.
None of this can be found in Trump's speeches. "The closer we get to the election and the more Trump fuels the fear of the protests and fuels these people with his law and order stuff, the worse it will get," Heidi Beirich of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism told the online magazine Intercept in late August. Only on August 25, a man in Philadelphia had shot into a crowd of protesters.
Trump regularly presents himself as the candidate for order, citing traditions of the US right wing. "I think Nixon understood that when the world falls apart, people want a strong leader whose top priority is to protect America first," Trump said as early as 2016. Many of the law and order commercials this summer look like quotes from Richard Nixon. The Republican won the 1968 and again the 1972 presidential elections because he was able to collect the votes of the "silent majority" of the white middle class, who had had enough of the liberal reforms and critical culture of the 1960s. It was the reactionary backlash, especially in the white suburbs, against the riots in U.S. cities.
This is apparently the scenario Trump hopes for the fall: Biden, he hopes, will fail in his attempt to show support for the protests against police violence while winning the votes of the conservative middle class in the suburbs. Again and again Trump sounds out that he could end the unrest in the "democratically governed cities" by deploying federal troops, if only he would be allowed to. In Portland, federal troops, including those from the Department of Homeland Security, had already operated in late July, removing demonstrators arrested on the streets in unmarked cars. This tactic had only fueled the protests, and many saw it as a further escalation of the illegal actions of the police apparatus. In Kenosha, the National Guard was deployed after the fatal shootings last week.
On Sunday there was another fatality in Portland. In the largest city in the northwestern state of Oregon, there had been repeated fights between the antifascists and organized right-wing groups for three years, who used the video material produced in the process for their propaganda that there was an out-of-control leftist danger. At the weekend, a group of supporters called on Trump to enter the city in a triumphant pickup truck column. The participants were asked to arm themselves. "Trump called the flag-caravan "Great Patriots. Later videos show pickup trucks driving through downtown Portland, from which Trump supporters shoot paintball guns and irritant gas.
Late in the evening sharp shots were fired. A Jay named supporter of the anti-antifa group Patriot Prayer, which is closely connected to neo-Nazis, was shot in the open street. Nothing is known about the perpetrator yet, but a video circulating on the Internet, which has been clicked on millions of times, shows an antifa group speaking in drastic words of self-defense. "Rest in Peace, Jay!" the president twittered. Trump's Homeland Security once again demanded to be allowed to send troops to Portland. Right-wing groups announced new marches in Portland: for their killed comrade Jay - and for Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse.