There is plenty to worry about in the escalating government attacks in Portland and other cities. Certainly it portends a new level in the escalating Trump drive towards fascism. Who would not be alarmed at those weapons, those drones, those kidnappings? It’s no joke.
The situation is not good. No revolutionary welcomes the arrival of fascism as some kind of trigger leading to “the revolution.” No, we don’t want that. But we can’t be surprised by the escalating violence of the state. It simply means that they are losing. I don’t want to be naively sanguine about the situation, it is terrifying, but please let me suggest a different spin on the situation.
What is happening is that special federal forces are being deployed to US cities, ostensibly to quell uprisings but really to terrorize and intimidate. The creation of a special Department of Homeland Security (DHS) portended such a development. These armed men have been shooting demonstrators with “rubber” (still lethal) bullets, tossing tear gas and flash bang grenades, clubbing, and kidnapping protestors. The videos that go up show a pretty frightening sight — guys in so much body armor that they look like robots, which indeed they are, violent robots of the state.
The DHS was formed shortly after 9/11 — invoking an aggressive sense of the nation, homeland, similar to the Nazi term “heimat.” The goal of DHS was to “fight terrorism” but the war spear was pointed inward, to a war inside US borders. And indeed this is an important way to define fascism, the methods of colonial/imperial violence brought home.
I would caution us to remember, however, that we have experienced this before. During the 60’s-70’s, the militarization of domestic repression was intense, even beyond what we are seeing in Portland. During the Detroit uprising of 1967 the United States Army’s 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions invaded, killing over thirty Black people. Soldiers from Ft. Carson and Ft. Hood entered Chicago to quell demonstrations in 1968. And soldiers used real, not rubber, bullets to kill students at Kent State and Jackson State in 1970. The FBI’s COINTELPRO was an ongoing government military assault on the Black Panther Party and other Black liberation forces, resulting in assassinations, kidnappings and jailings.
The important point is that all of these measures of repression were indications of the weakness of the imperialists. They were desperate flailings, attempting to use brute force to demoralize and deter the protests. But the opposite happened. The demonstrations in May 1970 brought the war machine to its knees and inspired thousands of GIs to lay down their weapons (see Winter Soldier investigation). The Portland horrors have only sparked a more determined and sophisticated resistance movement.
The imperialist state has nothing but its ability to deploy violence — and it is constantly inventing new and gruesome ways to maim, injure, and kill people. But it never understands the backlash, never understands the weakness of its only recourse. Hell, the US dropped 100,000 bombs in North Vietnam during the Christmas bombing of 1972. During the war, they dropped 400,000 tons of napalm and 11.2 million gallons of Agent Orange on that country. And they lost.
I’m not saying people didn’t suffer. People suffered horribly under this inexcusable display of genocidal hatred. A dying imperialism is the most dangerous. But these pathetic tin soldiers, all decked out in their body armor and covered by spy planes and drones, only reveal their weakness.
This country was born and nurtured on white supremacy and imperialism, racism is baked into the foundation of the US, so Black Lives Matter is actually a simple slogan which demands fundamental change. We never thought this country would change into something peaceful, humane, and loving without a paroxysm of hatred and violence, did we? Right now, military leaders are telling Trump they do not need to go all out because it is “not yet an insurrection.” But before significant change is made, it will be something they see as an insurrection and the military will escalate. So it’s best we be ready for the long haul, the protracted struggle.
We may still see the day that Chad Wolf, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, goes on trial, if not in the US then in the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Justice will win in the end. Pay attention. We are all getting the political education of our lifetimes right now.