USA under Trump: Back to Pinochet?
by Tomasz Konicz
[This article published on 7/19/2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.heise.de/tp/features/USA-unter-Trump-Zurueck-zu-Pinochet-4847245.html.]
US federal police practice "disappearances" of protesters in Portland, Oregon
Who will disappear this time? In the evening, after sunset, the great uncertainty spreads in Portland, Oregon: Large sedans follow demonstrators who participated in the ongoing protests against racism and police violence in the West American city. Suddenly, men dressed in military combat uniforms and hooded, get out of the car and - without exchanging a word with the surprised protesters - pick out individual protesters, drag them into their car and drive off with them.
What sounds like a feverish power fantasy of right-wing extremist policemen, who in their threatening emails signed with "NSU 2.0" announce the slaughter of children, is already bitter reality in the United States.
US media are currently reporting on special units of the US federal government that are on duty in the city - attacking and arresting protesters. The Trump administration has ostensibly sent these police units, including anti-terrorist units and border patrols, to Portland to secure federal facilities in the city, which has been embattled for months. The clashes between protesters and security forces have not subsided in Portland since the beginning of the uprising against police violence and racism in late May.
People demonstrate every evening in the center of the city, with clashes almost always between protesters and police forces. Although Portland is considered a left-wing bastion in the western United States, it is not an absolute exception. The demonstrations and actions continue in many cities in the USA.
Although the movement is now largely ignored by the mass media, it remains active. Explicitly anti-capitalist demonstrations, actions and protest rallies are also taking place almost daily, but they only make the headlines in exceptional cases: For example, when panicked millionaires threaten demonstrators with machine guns, when right-wingers once again race their cars into demonstrations, or when guillotines are set up in front of the estate of Amazon oligarch Jeff Bezos.
About two weeks ago, the Trump administration moved its federal troops to Portland to finally break up the ongoing protests in this city, which is also considered a nationwide progressive symbol. The city has been in a cycle of protests, police repression and further outrage, leading to new demonstrations, activists told media outlets. Every night is a "protest against the police actions of the previous night". Meanwhile, even Democratic politicians, such as Oregon Governor Kate Brown, have begun to criticize the hard and aggressive line of the police, who have been trying for nearly two months to end the protests with violence.
Fear is used to break the will of the population to resist
The deployment of federal police forces is considered an attempt to intensify this state repression. Many local activists also see the crackdown on the movement in Portland as a blueprint for a nationwide campaign of repression. However, the deployment of the martial federal police forces has so far only resulted in "further fanning the flames of tension," according to media reports, especially after a demonstrator was seriously injured by a federal police bullet. Demo paramedics who try to help an injured person are also beaten up.
The tactic of practicing the "disappearance" of demonstrators, which has now been adopted, is seen as a further escalation step that is intended to break the will of the population to resist by means of intimidation - and to awaken memories of the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile, warned the US media in initial assessments of this new police tactic. Human rights activists described these methods as "kidnappings" and the "kidnapping of people on the streets".
Demonstrators are arrested and taken away in a civilian vehicle. Image: Video from Sparrow Project
Meanwhile, Democratic politicians are publicly calling on the Trump administration to withdraw its police forces from Oregon and Portland, where only "political theater" is being staged to give Trump a "law and order" image in the election campaign. The president wants to make political capital out of the escalation, warned Governor Brown according to the news magazine Newsweek.
The Esquire also noted that the police forces commanded by Chad Wolf, head of the Department of Homeland Security, have little evidence in their own reports of the leftist excesses of violence that serve to justify the deployment of federal government special forces in the city. Wolf spoke of "violence perpetrated by anarchists", although his ministry itself listed as evidence of this mainly "violent graffiti" that had been sprayed on federal buildings. Two more "dirty words on buildings" and Wolf will "call for air strikes," commented The Esquire.
DHS Minister Chad Wolf visited Portland and the heavily armed security forces: "Our men and women in uniform are patriots. We will never surrender to violent extremists on my watch". Picture: DHS
Election tactical reasons for repression
The increasing repression against the protest movement in the United States, however, may also have tangible strategic reasons. The movement is apparently to be stifled before the crisis in the United States has a full socio-economic impact and the movement, which is mainly directed against racism and police violence, increasingly enriches itself with socially motivated protests - and consequently gains further momentum.
The Trump administration is thus fighting against the increasingly scarce time in its instrumentalization of the federal police forces to combat protest: Washington wants to see calm restored by the time of the elections, since the social situation in the faltering Western hegemonic power will deteriorate massively.
The U.S. economy collapsed by a dizzying 37 percent in the second quarter of this year, which according to the latest forecasts will result in a contraction of the gross domestic product of 6.6 percent this year. The official, much-beautified unemployment rate was 13.3 percent in May, although the true extent of the crisis in American labor society only becomes apparent when looking at the employment rate of the working population of the United States. This fell from 61.2 percent in January to 52.8 percent in May this year, as CNBC explained on its website at the end of June. Nearly half of the US population has no job, the CNBC report warned.
Moreover, the transitional regulations adopted at the outbreak of the crisis, which at least delayed the total impoverishment of broad sections of the population somewhat, will soon expire: 25 million US citizens will soon lose their temporary unemployment benefits, the moratoria on evictions from rented housing will soon expire in many states, so that tens of thousands of destitute people will soon find themselves on the streets, while the pandemic is raging almost unhindered in the country, which has been largely ruined by a privatized healthcare sector, and is setting new records for new infections.
[Translator Marc: The CDC ruled on Oct 28, 2020 a moratorium on rent evictions is in effect until the pandemic is over.]
More and more people in the United States therefore have more and more reasons to take to the streets - and hardly anything left to lose. (Tomasz Konicz)