The Meaning of the Deployment of Federal Paramilitary Forces to Portland

Statement by Socialist Organizer

President Trump’s use of paramilitary forces against Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters in Portland, Oregon, marks an ominous acceleration in the slide toward authoritarian rule in this country.

Violating Constitutional rights reflected in existing law, and in opposition to state and local governments, unidentified camouflaged units have been kidnapping peaceful protesters, blindfolding them, forcing them into unmarked cars, and then holding them for hours without formal arrest or charges. These shock troops have been drawn primarily from border patrol agencies, including the elite BORTAC, an extreme SWAT-type team supposedly created for use against violent drug smugglers. Trump and Attorney General William Barr have vowed to do the same in other major cities across the country, including Chicago, which is suing the administration for this threat, Baltimore, Oakland, Detroit, Philadelphia, and New York City, among others. These paramilitary forces already have been deployed in Seattle.

The designation of future cities reveals yet another aspect of Trump’s campaign strategy as his support numbers plummet as a consequence of his disastrous response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most targeted cities have large Black and Brown populations and Democratic Party mayors, and have defied federal immigration policy by becoming sanctuary cities.

Using crime statistics unrelated to the BLM protests, Trump claims that the mayors of these cities are refusing to combat violent crime because they are beholden to a “radical left” agenda designed to destroy the police, and that the federal government has to step in, ostensibly to “maintain law and order and protect federal property.” Thus, Trump seeks to provoke violent incidents to justify his actions, mobilize his base, and intimidate all who might vote or campaign against him. Trump has asserted repeatedly that Article 2 of the Constitution allows him to do whatever he wants.

In city after city, it’s local police along with white supremacist thugs – and now federal paramilitary – who have attacked protesters exercising their legal right to assemble. In Portland, a protester almost died after being shot in the head with a “less lethal” projectile; a peaceful veteran was beaten up, suffering broken bones from a savage attack after he attempted to talk to police. In Austin, a man was shot and killed last week by a counter-protester. In addition to “less lethal” projectiles, grenades, and clubs that often maim and sometimes kill, police routinely use tear gas and pepper spray against demonstrators. These painful respiratory irritants can cause lasting lung damage and are especially dangerous during the coronavirus pandemic.

Outrage Across the Country

Trump’s intervention has led to massive outrage across the country as activists, and people in general, recognize that the use of tactics typical of authoritarian regimes is a major threat not just to the activists themselves, but also to basic democratic functioning.

Such tactics are nothing new in a country built on slavery and genocide. They are not new to tens of thousands of Black and Latino youth who are rounded up routinely and fed to the prison-industrial complex. What is different about Portland is the open and brazen character of the attack by the federal government upon the very institutional fabric of bourgeois democracy enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Combined with massive voter suppression already underway and Trump’s threat that he may not honor the election results if he loses, there is widespread fear of a descent into fascism and even an openly fascist-type coup. To date, the mainstream military hierarchy has distanced itself from Trump, but that could change if he is able to provoke a major violent incident or false-flag event.

That’s why we must mobilize in huge numbers to demand: Hands Off the Black Lives Matter Protesters; Stop Police Terror, and End Systemic Racism!

A Fundamental Difference?

The Democratic governor of Oregon and the mayor of Portland have decried the paramilitary invasion. Not surprisingly, Democratic Party politicians across the country are stating that the way to stop what just occurred in Portland is to vote for Joe Biden. Even many activists who ordinarily are committed to political independence from the Democrats are rationalizing support for Biden, a “neoliberal” warmonger, on the ground that defeating Trump is essential to prevent the rise of fascism. A Biden victory, they insist, will make it “easier” to fight racism and build independent working class movements and parties in the future.

Given the political void created by the labor officialdom’s continued refusal to break with the Democrats and run independent labor candidates for office, it is understandable why millions of voters will support Biden. And, with the pandemic risk and voter intimidation, many no doubt will be discouraged from voting at all. Given Biden’s record, others still will refuse to vote for either Trump or Biden, or they will cast a protest vote for the Green Party nominee or other third-party candidates.

Clearly, for many people there appears to be a significant difference between Biden and Trump. And while there are differences, the issue is how did we get to the point where we are now faced with a choice between someone who is creating the threat of descent into outright authoritarian rule and someone who supports, and helped create, the existing racist, anti-worker policies supported by both Democrats and Republicans — policies that led to Trump’s rise and electoral college “victory” in 2016?

There is nothing new about this false choice. What is new is the depth of the political crisis in this country stemming from the overall crisis of global capitalism, enhanced by the COVID-19 pandemic and the existential threat of climate change. The open incursion of fascist tactics is new, but will electing Biden stop this crisis? No.

We are at a point where the pandemic has opened the floodgates to a new Depression. In the name of addressing the pandemic crisis, capitalists and their loyal minions in both major parties are already demanding that state budgets slash education, healthcare, transportation, and other public services. They are demanding that the trade unions, with the green light from the Democrats, join in partnerships with the bosses to enact the layoffs and budget cuts. These “jointism” and “round-table” schemes are the very hallmark of “corporatism” — a key component of fascist rule.

The Democrats call for bailing out both Wall Street and Main Street. To the unwary, this may sound good. But working people have seen time and again that the needs of Wall Street are always prioritized, with only crumbs left for Main Street. Just look at the vote last week for a record-breaking Pentagon budget. Even a very modest effort to reduce the war budget by 10% and redirect the savings toward needed pandemic and other relief failed to pass. Most Democrats voted to approve, as proposed, a budget devoted to killing people and destroying the environment globally so that military contractors can continue to reap astronomical profits.

That’s why we must demand: Bail Out Main Street, NOT Wall Street!

The Democratic Party actively co-opts the leaders of trade unions and movements of the oppressed. Our misleaders in the labor movement and among these communities tell us that we are beholden to the Democratic Party for what gains we still have. They say: “Don’t rock the boat, Don’t play into the hands of the Republicans!” In short, accept the cuts, just try to make them less draconian! This is why we say that the Democratic Party is the graveyard of social movements.

So, we can’t expect a respite, whichever of the two capitalist candidates wins the November election. Millions will hold their nose and vote for Biden, hoping against hope that something will change. But the capitalist onslaught will only deepen unless we build a genuine political alternative — beginning today. We must not be placed in this situation yet again; the lesser of two evils is still evil. Time is running out.

Pointing the Way to Independent Working Class Politics

As the Depression grows, so will mass unemployment and poverty, pitting workers against each other and fomenting even greater racism and xenophobia. Workers and oppressed peoples must continue to take to the streets in massive numbers, supporting each other’s struggles, and we must organize within the labor movement to mobilize for strike action, if we are to have any chance of protecting or expanding our rights and benefits. We applaud the ILWU for leading the way with its strike on Juneteenth. We agree with the organizers of that effort, the leaders of ILWU Local 10, that we must lay the groundwork for the creation of a new and effective independent, working class political party that breaks with the twin parties of Capital once and for all.

Some ask, don’t we already have third parties? Aren’t others trying to build new ones? What about the Green Party or the Movement for a Peoples Party (MPP)?

The MPP supports the California Progressive Alliance (CPA), which has an explicitly inside-outside strategy toward the Democratic Party and has Green Party members on its board. The MPP is already building alliances with CPA endorsed candidates, such as Shahid Buttar, who is running against Nancy Pelosi with the support of the a “left wing” of the Democratic Party. Perhaps the 2024 campaign candidate they’re talking about could be a “progressive” Democrat running with MPP endorsement.

The MPP opposes making demands on “progressive” Democrats, for example Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who has taken some valiant votes against war, but is still a member and leader of a party of the capitalist class. Neither the MPP nor the Greens see a difference between a party built by and for the working class and oppressed communities and one that brings voters together around a loose, class-denying ideology of “progressive populism.” [See article on the MPP in issue no. 5 of The Organizer Weekly Newsletter.]

What is needed is a clean break with the twin parties of capitalism. What is needed is for the labor movement to implement the two resolutions adopted by the 2017 National Convention of the AFL-CIO that call for building an independent Labor-Based Political Party. It is time for labor to break its ties of subordination to the Democratic Party. Again, time is running out!

Helping to get the ball rolling toward these goals is why Socialist Organizer (which publishes The Organizer newspaper) has joined up with the Ujima Peoples Progress Party in Baltimore, the Labor Fightback Network, FLOC (AFL-CIO), Teamsters 808, Haiti Liberté, and many others, to build Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP) (

LCIP is committed to building: (1) local coalitions between unions and groups representing Black and other oppressed communities that will develop independent candidates accountable to the coalitions’ platforms, and (2) to build in our unions a wing to gain support for such coalitions; both with the goal of building up to a national independent working class party. LCIP is also committed to the effort to build independent Black political parties.

We invite you, our readers and supporters, to attend LCIP’s online conference this September 19 and 20. For more information about the conference and to register, go to the LCIP website or contact conference co-convener Nnamdi Lumumba at <>.

— July 28, 2020

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