Portland and the Rule of Law

More fear mongering on the left. I am referring to the chaos in Portland, Oregon. The “rebellion” is in its seventh week of chaos. The federal government has moved to quell the mob while the corporate media amplifies the hysteria. We see the establishment media on the side of those attempting to overturn our republic. Progressives are describing the intervention as “authoritarian” and “fascist.” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called the officers “stormtroopers” and accused them of “kidnapping protestors.” The Washington Post documented a single person who was arrested, briefly detained, and released. The officers followed procedures, drove him to the federal courthouse and then released him.

PORTLAND, OR - JULY 17: Federal officers prepare to disperse the crowd of protestors outside the Multnomah County Justice Center on July 17, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Federal law enforcement agencies attempt to intervene as protests continue in Portland.
Federal law enforcement officers in Portland, Oregon

We saw the same hyperbole at the border during the migrant crisis. Trump is Hitler. DHS is Gestapo. CBP are brownshirts. Detainment facilities are concentration camps. America is a fascist country. (Immigration, Deportation, and Reductio ad Hitlerum; Migrant Detention Facilities are Not Fascist Concentration Camps; The Attempt to Gaslight America Over Open Borders.) We heard the same rhetoric from the far right in the 1990s—“jackboot thugs” and all of that.

When we see leftist mob violence in Portland or other cities it is useful to ask what we would expect of the federal government if the authorities of a southern city or state stood by while white supremacist mobs rioted and perpetrated acts of violence on citizens. Would we expect the federal government to step in and do the job local law enforcements are failing or unwilling to do? Or would we condemn the federal government for intervening? No doubt progressives would howl if the government failed to bring the hammer down on white supremacists. In fact they do (U.S. Law Enforcement Failed to See the Threat of White Nationalism).

If I consistently adhere to principle the answer to the question is yes—whatever the ideological persuasion. I called for federal intervention in Black Lives Matter/Antifa riots back in May (The Riotous Left is on the Wrong Side of Democracy and Justice) and followed up with an blog about in June (Fake News, Executive Power, and the Anti-Working Class Character of Street Crime). I also called for federal intervention in the Cliven Bundy case, calling that situation an insurrection (see The Cliven Bundy Case and State Power; see also The States Rights Fallacy). My problem with the tragedy at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas was not not that the federal government intervened. It was how the intervention was conducted. I do not have a problem with DHS or the National Guard stepping in when local law enforcement cannot do its job. And, in the present case of Portland, federal officers are protecting federal buildings and officers.

DHS Head Chad Wolfe Visits Portland, Rips Officials, Day After ...
The riots in Portland, Oregon have devastated the city

Something needs to be done. Riots, vandalism, arson—these are not legitimate acts of protest. Just because you may agree with the protestors and don’t like Trump or the police is no reason to disregard the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Unlawful acts of violence and property destruction are not protected speech or expression by the First Amendment. The First Amendment guarantees citizens’ right to peaceably assemble. It does not give people permission to engage in insurrection, terrorism, or criminal violence.

The Constitution makes clear that the federal government—the supreme law of the land—has the authority to execute the laws of the Union, repel invasion, and suppress insurrection. It doesn’t matter whether you and I agree over what the insurrection is about or who the insurrectionists are. The government does not take a side against the people. It’s obligation is to uphold the rule of law. The Constitution guarantees a republican government to all citizens. It must step in in the face of failure or unwillingness to uphold the rule of law—especially when the republic is threatened.

Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said in a statement a couple of days ago, “The city of Portland has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city. Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it.” The statement continues, “Instead of addressing violent criminals in their communities, local and state leaders are instead focusing on placing blame on law enforcement and requesting fewer officers in their community. This failed response has only emboldened the violent mob as it escalates violence day after day.” The statement then goes on to detail a list of violent actions by the mob since May 29. The list of criminal actions is extensive. Portland has a problem. The city leaders either don’t know how to control criminal violence or choose not to. Under these circumstances, the federal government is obliged to step in.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler

I want to make this clear: I am a defender of the Constitution and the US Republic. I don’t care whether it’s antifascists or fascists or whatever. If people are perpetrating criminal violence, they need to be dealt with. If the federal government is interfering with lawful and peaceful protests, then I will of course condemn those actions. If the federal government is upholding the right of citizens to be free from violence and property destruction, and if proper criminal procedures are following in doing so, I will refrain from criticizing them. If there are cases where they do not correctly follow procedure, this does not necessarily condemn the overall action.

For the record, I do not agree with the motives of the insurrectionists. We are in the midsts of a campaign to delegitimize law enforcement and, more broadly, our republic. Violent anarchists or other rebels are subverting law and order. This is a regressive countermovement. To be sure, anarchists and others have the right to peaceably assemble and protest. But when their actions cross over into insurrection, terrorism, and criminal violence, I see no alternative but for a government sworn to uphold the Constitution to intervene in a lawful fashion. How the cops are dressed or what sorts of the vehicles they drive around in is irrelevant.

I will continue to closely follow these developments. But the federal government moving to suppress this insurrection is part of what I meant when I made the slogan “enough is enough” my Facebook cover. Federal intervention is long overdue.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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