The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Portland Seizures Are the Next Step to Latin American-Style Fascism

As you my have heard, masked men without badges are jumping out of unmarked vans and grabbing people in Portland.

This is a clear violation of due process. They appear to choose their victims primarily by looking at videos of protests, identifying people, and grabbing them when they see them.

This is essentially a light version of what the US taught Latin American nations to do at the School of the Americas. It doesn’t yet, so far as I know, include torture and rape once the victims reach the sites where they are held, but if this is allowed to continue, that sort of thing is next on the menu.

The people doing it appear to Department of Homeland Security; primarily ICE–border control agents. They’ve always obviously been trained as brownshirts; that’s why they brutalize powerless people for a living, including children (something that happened under Obama, though it became worse under Trump). Brownshirts need to be dehumanized, and you dehumanize thugs by making them dehumanize other people.

If it isn’t clear, such seizures are a terror tactic, designed to break the will to resist. They are enjoyed by authoritarian followers; they feel that the people being brutalized deserve what happens to them, which includes beatings, arbitrary arrests, torture and rape (when those last two occur).

Americans have spent a lot of time teaching other people how to do this, and in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, where the US acted as “advisors” have engaged in such behaviour themselves. It was inevitable that such tactics would be used against American citizens when/ if they ever became too uppity.

Biden, or whoever runs his administration, will not take steps to change this. He may not do it himself, but he will not move to disband the Department of Homeland Security, get rid of the indefinite detention act, or end the Patriot Act, and so on. Children will no longer be detained in cages alone, they will be detained in cages with their families. Americans will continue to encourage other countries to engage in these behaviours, will continue to occupy Afghanistan, and will continue to degrade their military and police class to ensure that they will hurt civilians on command, and get off on it.

A momentary “cease fire” in this behaviour, assuming one happens (remember, Obama assassinated American citizens, killing without due process), is not a push-back. The second a Republican, or even a Democrat, wants to do this again, it will be easy to do–the people, organizations, precedents, and laws will all be available.

I don’t consider this a massive step up from what’s already existed (beatings and executions of Americans by people with badges), but it is a step down the path to authoritarianism. Fascism, if you like–but the model isn’t 1930s Germany, it’s Pinochet and El Salvador, and so on.

This is who and what the US is. It is what Americans have inflicted on others, and it is coming home. The question is whether enough non-degraded, non-authoritarian Americans remain to resist it.

I hope I’m wrong, but my suspicion is the answer is “not enough.” Certainly your lords and masters generally approve of the direction the US is headed, though they may “regret” this sort of activity, somewhat.

Make your own evaluation, and act based on it.

And remember, in a nation like The US is becoming, who you trust is the most important decision you will ever make. Trust one wrong person, and rape and torture will happen to you or those you care about.

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Open Thread


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – July 19, 2020


  1. krake

    American tyranny was always going to have a falangist, palingenetic character.

    I quibble ‘brownshirts’, though. Corporate America’s merchant princes will soon enough insist on vanishing the too-public displays of power.

    It’s bad for branding.

  2. No Justice No Peace

    Ian, imagine yourself as a US citizen. If other countries ever allow Americans in again, where would you want to move to the most? Besides Canada.

  3. Synoia

    Gibbons decline and fall of Rome spanned 3 or for centuries. If one includes Constantinople as a successor to Rome, the decline and fall spanned approximately 14 Centuries.

    That’s a loot of time spent declining and falling.

    I suspect the condition was steady state (more of the same) over those centuries, followed by a catastrophic drop.

    The successor of Imperial Rome, the Catholic Church was successful from it’s recognition, to the last century, of subduing all of Western Europe.

    With the odd grumble of people with bad manners nailing rude comments onto Church Doors.

  4. Chiron

    You’re right that American fascism will be like in the Latin-American countries, look at Bozonaro to the future.

  5. S Brennan

    Really Ian, I thought we already had that moment back when there was a White House coordinated nationwide crackdown on Occupy Wall Street? Only difference I can remember is; back then the blogs gushed how presidential it made Obama look…oh and how the nationwide arrests “would-actually-strengthen-the-movement*”…whoa, how times have changed huh?

    *EZ-rah Klein

  6. Ché Pasa

    It only takes relatively few determined fascist-types to impose their will on everyone else, and generally it only takes a few incidents of bloody violence to establish control and occasional disappearances and public displays of brutality to maintain it.

    I suppose we can be grateful (?) that the Trump regime is so inept, but they have been eagerly practicing the elements of their intended Triumph of the Will from the beginning of their reign. Those who are surprised at what’s going on in Portland (and elsewhere) haven’t been paying attention, or like many politicians and so many in the media have been making light of it. “It can’t happen here,” after all.

    Well, it is happening. Has been. And the push-back, while enormous at times, with millions upon millions in the streets over and over again, has been… weak at best, completely ineffective most of the time.

    The insurrections triggered by the murder of George Floyd have yet to gel into a movement toward power. They are mostly still petitioning those who have power. Well, despite any gains they may or may not be seeing, it’s not going to work over the long term because of the determination of the handful of crypto-fascists to rule rather than accommodate. They don’t have to get elected, but enough of them are in office and on the bench to overrule the majority, and they will.

    But they won’t be able to do it everywhere, and they won’t be able to overcome active and persistent resistance. They’re not very bright. But they are brutal.

    They’re trying out various aktions to see what they can get away with and what will eliminate their designated enemies: for now, anarchists and the Dreaded ANTIFA. Before that it was immigrants and asylum seekers. Before too long it will be any opposition.

    Our political and governmental institutions are too weak and compromised to do much about it. Even if the Democrats are restored to rule. It’s too late. They’ll go along to save themselves. But that won’t be the case everywhere. And never forget, fascists fight among themselves and tend to bring one another down.

    Be not afraid. But by god be as prepared as you can.

  7. Gunther Behn

    The Roman Empire may have taken 300 or 1,400 years to fall; that won’t be the case with America. In a broad sense, cycles of history have become shorter as more of our supply chains and communications depend on technology.

    A ‘fall’ at this point means the breakdown of multiple, and interdependent, systems. Most people in America, or anywhere, want their basic needs met — physical security; food, water, shelter; medicine. Whoever can supply most of that will be The Leaders. If it’s a proto-fascist government, or governing by religious fanatics (fascists, still), doesn’t matter — people will line up to profess loyalty as long as they can eat and get a cot.

    Personally, I have low expectations of Americans in the mass. The bulk of us seem massively arrogant, stupid, and self-focused. They won’t care if their leaders are neoliberals, or Banana Republic fascists, or the Republic of Gilead. They’ll just go along to get along.

  8. recon

    If the presidency of Jimmy Carter is in a cage atrocities will be continued until morale improves. Declassified docs show that Jimmy Carter\’s support for Argentine junta\’s \”counter-terrorism\” belies his popular image as a humanitarian.

  9. Dan Lynxh

    Several issues to unravel about the Portland insurrection — and yes, it is an insurrection:

    — does anyone even know what the insurrection is about? Tearing down a statue of George Washington? \”Black Trans Lives Matter\”? Burning a police station? They strike me as young left-ish anarchists, rebels without a cause. As such I see no reason to support them.

    — Trump being Trump, plays the law and order card. But Trump\’s thugs as well as the local cops may end up escalating the situation. Violence sometimes begets more violence.

    — There may sometimes be valid justification for an insurrection, but the bar has to be very high. You can\’t just say \”I don\’t agree with speed limits so I\’m going to drive 100 mph in a school zone and then go burn down a police station.\” There has to be a really important issue at stake, and you first have to try to work within the system to change things. I.e., Oregon has a ballot initiative process, so if someone wants to abolish the police or ban statues of George Washington, I say they should organize to put the issue on the ballot and then respect the results of that ballot.

    — if the cops merely arrest people who are breaking the law, I have no problem with that. Trump\’s thugs may well be going beyond that, though details are murky. When dealing with an insurrection, the niceties of due process may not apply.

    — Now ask yourself, if the president had sent \”brownshirts\” to arrest the right wing anarchists who illegally occupied and vandalized the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, would you have a problem with that? I wouldn\’t. I was all for arresting the Bundy nutters. We can debate the best tactics — should we send in the National Guard with tanks and machine guns, or should we merely try to starve them out? — but the bottom line is: IT IS THE PRESIDENT\’S JOB TO PUT DOWN AN INSURRECTION. And most citizens IN ANY COUNTRY will support that.

    So I call bullshit on \”this is fascism and the sky is falling.\”

    All that said, the heavy handed tactics may backfire, as with Janet Reno\’s violent crackdown on the Waco Cult, or Herbert Hoover\’s violent crackdown on the Bonus Army. If the protesters have reasonable grievances, maybe we should address their grievances. If the protesters are unreasonable, as the Portland protesters appear to be, there is still a lot to be said for attempting to de-escalate. FDR disagreed with the Bonus Army and refused to meet their demands, but he sent Eleanor over to have tea with them.

    We all know that the bigger issue is economic inequality and a corrupt government that only cares about the rich. If you have extreme inequality, you\’re going to have pitchforks.

  10. Ché Pasa

    The ¨Portland Insurrection” has been going on sporadically for well more than a decade. It pre-dates Occupy. What’s going on now is another phase, a continuation of what started long ago. It comes out of labor and anarchist traditions.

    The insurrectionists have made clear enough what they want. The demonstrations and protests center on “de-policing,” de-racializing the police and justice systems, and building/rebuilding community among the dispossessed, disenfranchised, and despairing. It’s not a mystery.

    The Portland Police Bureau has a grotesque history of lies, murder, racism, classism, white supremacy, and brutality matched only by their confederates in Seattle/Tacoma in the Pacific Northwest. There have been numerous pitched battles between the police and protesters over the years, and what’s going on now echoes previous street battles. There’s new urgency and determination in part because the protesters believe maybe this time they’ll win. The stars have realigned.

    Trump’s injection of Federales into a already volatile mix has so far backfired badly. Overnight, the protest crowds grew substantially and included a much wider diversity of participants objecting to the presence of violent federal/Trump loyalist forces roaming their city, abducting residents, and brutalizing non-violent protesters. Apparently, these forces did not go wilding the area of the federal courthouse overnight, but used their abundance of less lethal munitions to repeatedly clear the unarmed protesters from the streets and sidewalks around their fortress.

    Meanwhile, the Portland police went on periodic rampages throughout the downtown area, bullrushing protesters, teargassing them, chasing them down, making arbitrary arrests and arbitrarily brutalizing those who can’t get away, etc. the way they’ve been doing for years and years, only to be met with more and more distrust and disgust. People were coming out of their houses supporting the protesters and so forth.

    Trump seems to think the situation is “now” under control. Ha ha.

  11. “The people doing it appear to Department of Homeland Security; primarily ICE: border control agents. “ Based on what. Have you observed them? Seen their insignia or credentials? Do you have any photos documenting this assertion?

    “They’ve always obviously been trained as brownshirts…” Any documentation for this one? Who did the training? Any manuals?

    I’ve been a fan for a long time, Ian, and I’m not happy with what’s happening in this nation, but you are becoming increasingly detached from reality.

  12. John

    We should remember that the Clinton/Reno solution to the Wackos from Waco was to just hold a Texas BBQ and burn them all alive rather than grab the lead wacko off the street. Also, think about the final shoot out with the SLA, the Patty Hearst abductors. The cops fired so many bullets that the building literally disintegrated. Violence and smiley face have gone hand in hand since 1607.
    The new element is Mother Nature getting in on the game. As seen recently, the pandemic is the pop quiz before the Global Warming final exam. I saw recently that Donald and the Republicondems have executed a bioterror op on Amerika that parallels
    the Native American smallpox genocide. That’s just the pop quiz. By that standard; someplace like VietNam would be the best place to seek refuge as they’ve done Covid so well.

  13. nihil obstet

    The major bulwark against fascism is trade unions. It is hopeful that support for unions is growing. Resistance/revolution requires organization, and the unions are the ones who have it, who develop it among their members. It’s another reason to focus on labor policy and grievances both in what ways we can give support and in how we develop our own narrative.

  14. highrpm

    start a revolution, expect some pushback. and expect some suspension of due process during the war. quit complaining.

  15. anon y'mouse

    as a former Portland resident, and an unwilling U.S. citizen, reality on the ground is not what matters. what matters is how the media and the BigGov can spin it for the rest of the population.

    all people not from there see is the shadow play on the wall, and “but they were rioting and destroying property. order must be maintained” yadda yadda. when you try to explain to them what Che’ Pasa said above–that the tensions and problems there have been going on for some time, they revert back to their “but people can’t destroy stuff without being checked”.

    the U.S. is full of authoritarians who are extremely dumb–so dumb, they don’t even know that they are fully propagandized and can’t be led out of the maze. they will rant about their rights to not wear a mask, but then back the police when standing on a man’s neck or putting down “rioters”.

  16. Benjamin

    @Dan Lynxh

    I live just outside Portland. This isn’t remotely an ‘insurrection’. It’s been a couple months of nightly parades with some property damage on the side, caused by a minority of either overzealous edgelords, or undercover cops.

    The ‘movement’ was already well on the wane, largely due to its inherent incoherence and lack of specific demands (‘racism bad, end racism’ isn’t a set of policy proposals. ‘Abolish the police’ at least is one, albeit a retarded one). Trump’s ridiculous federal cop move has given the protests a new boost, though I don’t know how long that will last.

    What I suspect (hope) will happen in the coming weeks as evictions rise and money runs out is that these identity politics protests will be overwhelmed by much larger numbers of people demanding action on material issues.

  17. jump

    “Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.” He seemed to be in thick with Pinochet.
    We don’t seem to be in the satire zone now, not even a bad joke that most don’t get. Does DJT really think some federal force can control and ‘dominate’ what is happening? There are way too many people without jobs, facing hunger and eviction, with time on their hands–and did I say they are likely pretty angry.
    This time the force used against people will hurt a lot of people (not just the federal ones but the policy ones). It will be ugly and the hurt will be bad for a lot of people. This time I hope there are more angry people than what the admin thinks they can ‘dominate’.
    But DJT does seem to want a civil war.

  18. Benjamin


    Trump doesn’t ‘want’ anything, beyond sycophantic praise. He’s a petulant manchild who is flailing about for something to make himself look tough as he plummets in the polls.

    I seriously doubt the current protests are going to lead to any kind of civil war, but if they did it would have a lot more to do with liberal media like the NYT apparently being hellbent on pushing an essentialist race war narrative with things like their asinine 1619 Project.

  19. Mark Pontin

    Benjamin wrote: ‘Trump doesn’t ‘want’ anything, beyond sycophantic praise.’

    Not true.

    Trump is owned by much bigger money, who put him where he is and for whom he has to deliver on certain projects of theirs that they’ve been working towards for decades. And once you know who they are and what they want, it’s clear he is delivering.

  20. Lex

    The DHS goons on US streets is simply our foreign policy coming home. And likely the various AGs and DAs filing suits and preparing press releases will find that it’s all 100% legal. “Nobody” expected that the authoritarian and fascist tactics used against foreign brown people and to “protect” us from terrorists would be used at home. But there’s a reason all those laws were written so that they can be applied domestically. It isn’t an insurrection yet, but there’s a good chance that it will be. Trump is radicalizing both sides of the American body politic.

  21. jump

    Danger Will Robinson, Danger.
    There are few options for the orange. His MO has been hit them hard (them being any dissent to his views). He is starting to hit hard. He is not friendly anymore This is life or death for him and in his fear it will be death for others–not him so it doesn’t matter.
    I am afraid.

  22. Manqueman

    I’ma defective human being but I was able to smell the Reaganites’ love of Latin American failed states — shitholes — and their desire to turn the US into one. Pretty much mission: accomplished.

  23. NRG

    Benjamin is right on this:
    “I live just outside Portland. This isn’t remotely an ‘insurrection’. It’s been a couple months of nightly parades with some property damage on the side, caused by a minority of either overzealous edgelords, or undercover cops.”

    I live blocks from the downtown core of Portland. My wife headed down to return some shoes to Eddie Bauer this weekend at the open mall across the street from the federal building. So, yeah, insurrection is a bit strong. The stated rationale for this idiotic unconstitutional nonsense is that the federal building is under threat to such an extent that the entire city is in a state of violent insurrection. I can tell you with absolute certainty that it is not. It’s pretextual nonsense to say it is. The mayor, the governor, and the city council want these jackbooted federal thugs out of our city. That isn’t because a revolution is brewing here. It’s because they know who is instigating violence, and they want the federal thugs who are doing it gone.

    What is happening here is that a failing politician is desperately trying to change the subject. What is happening is also, simultaneously, is a try out of a possible fascist regime. One of the main reasons it can happen is the spineless agreement of administrations of both parties to the 100-mile Constitution-free zone around the borders. Fun to contemplate that that area includes most major cities, including Portland.

  24. CNN interviews Cuccinelli, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security.

    No good explanation of why a big Navy vet guy was pepper sprayed and hit with batons (which he didn’t seem to feel; strange….) Did he resist a lawful order, or not?

    Other than that, no support of out of control “brownshirt” charges.

  25. Ché Pasa

    A follow up note: the protests in Portland continue. They’ve been growing and evolving since the feds started abducting people off the streets and severely injuring nonviolent protesters. From hundreds demonstrating at the federal courthouse a night, the numbers have increased to thousands as more and more and more varied people come out to participate. Tactics have evolved quickly, too.

    Last night I saw something on the Veteran for Peace livestream that really surprised me. The feds were trying to extend their perimeter around the courthouse. They’d pushed the protesters back two blocks, and the protesters turned the tables on them. Somebody set off a smoke grenade (red) so the feds couldn’t see what was up. Then somebody exploded fireworks in the midst of the feds, quite spectacular. The feds retreated double quick — though you couldn’t see them through the smoke. The protesters pushed back to the courthouse, not a fed to be seen. That wasn’t the end of the night’s festivities, but wow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it in a US demonstration.

    Buzzfeed says that DHS employees are “demoralized” by what’s going on. They should be.

  26. Mark Pontin

    @ Ché Pasa –

    Yeah, I noted that. It was mildly interesting, but also a product of [1] the sheer numbers of the crowd who, as you say, really weren’t that hardcore and [b] the lame non-pro-level thuggery of these particular feds. If there’d been, say, some crack IDF-trained NYPD types there, it might have been a different story.

    It’s still early days, of course. Maybe the protesters will start strapping IEDs onto cheap drones and flying them into cop shops or — God help us — our oligarchs will start putting Academi (formerly Blackwater-Xe) mercs on the streets by summer’s end.

    Interesting times. Not coincidentally, the Fed has gone full MMT.

    Scott Pelley: Can you characterize everything that the Fed has done this past week as essentially flooding the system with money?

    Neel Kashkari: Yes. Exactly.

    Scott Pelley: And there’s no end to your ability to do that?

    Neel Kashkari: There is no end to our ability to do that.

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