As mayors of major U.S. cities condemn the deployment of unbadged, unnamed goon squads from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to attack and kidnap protesters in Portland, Oregon, and President Donald Trump threatens to send them to other cities, the silence from Oklahoma Senators James Lankford and Jim Inhofe is cacophonous.
We, as Americans, are taught to believe that personal freedoms and due process are birthrights, that we will know our accusers and be shown identification by law enforcement. Many of us also know that, depending on who you are and where you come from, this is a blast of hot gas.
Opinion by George D. Lang
As the group of mayors — Jenny Durkan of Seattle, Washington; Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta, Georgia; Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, Illinois; Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C.; Quinton Lucas of Kansas City, Missouri; and Ted Wheeler of Portland, Oregon — made clear in a letter sent to the White House and Congress, Trump is sending secret police into major metropolitan centers to bludgeon protesters and “disappear” people into unmarked vans.
“These are tactics we expect from authoritarian regimes — not our democracy,” the mayors wrote.
In particular, Inhofe should be on red alert regarding this operation, because it touches one of his key constituencies. As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Inhofe should be livid that people dressed in military uniforms, agents who have not earned the camouflage on their backs and refuse to identify the agency or organization they serve, are desecrating both the military’s image and the tenets of democracy.
But this is standard-issue Inhofe, a man who values political power over all else. When protesters are beset by these camo-clad agents, they perceive them as soldiers. Whether they work for Homeland Security or, as has been speculated, are members of Erik Prince’s Academi (f.k.a. Blackwater), they are not serving their country. They are inflicting themselves on what have been largely peaceful protests.
This should deeply bother Inhofe, but the senator has never shown any compunction over wearing paramilitary gear while pandering to servicemembers. His fealty is entirely to himself and Trump, a bet that never pays off even for Trump’s most steadfast toadies.
As for Lankford, he is too busy commanding his Christian soldiers in the culture wars. While news was breaking about the attacks and abductions in Portland, Lankford was focused on his never-ending anti-choice jeremiad and misrepresenting the movement to “defund” the police.
Lankford and Inhofe’s lack of insight or public comment on these attacks is not surprising. They do not see the protesters as part of “their America.” Like Trump, they perceive them as a threat to our nation instead of representing the kind of social and moral change that could save American law enforcement from its legacy of racism and police brutality.
Trump’s bright idea to combat this movement is to use authoritarian tactics against groups that are protesting authoritarian tactics. He is underlining the failures of the system by doubling down on those failures.
Lankford and Inhofe should look to Christopher David for inspiration on how to act responsibly in the face of Trump’s Augusto Pinochet cosplay. On July 17, the 53-year-old U.S. Navy veteran saw the smartphone footage of Portland protesters being shoved into rented vans and decided to act.
David confronted the agents about the oath they presumably took to support, defend and uphold the Constitution, the same oath he took as a young ensign. In response, the agents pummeled him with batons and attacked him with pepper spray. The agents broke several bones in his hand when David had only questioned them. Even with a broken hand, David managed to defiantly throw his middle fingers in the air as a response to the attackers.
David’s action is patriotism at its most crucial: an act of defiance in the face of creeping fascism. It is heroism writ large. In contrast, by not speaking out against these anti-democratic atrocities, Lankford and Inhofe are tacitly approving of them.
But there will be a reckoning. As Rick Wilson tweeted on July 15, “My God, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is going to be LIT.”