If you want a detailed account of what has been happening in Portland, Oregon, from the very beginning in fact, look no further than this long and thoroughly detailed piece by journalist Robert Evans. Even with such detail, there are many, including the current president, who do not care to understand or intentionally misrepresent the facts there. With all that is going on in this country it is understandable that many might not care about Portland, but as far as this president goes, his misrepresentation is not at all surprising. This is a president known to portray areas of the country as literally “rat-infested” hellscapes, despite all available evidence existing revealing the contrary.
The reality in Portland, however, is that over the past several weeks crime has been lower than average. Indeed, up until a couple of weeks ago even the protests in Portland were decreasing. Until the feds showed up that is. Using what can only be best described as alarming and deeply troubling tactics against the protestors. In response to criticism of these tactics (in which camo-clad federal agents snatched a peaceful protestor off the street and put him in an unmarked van), the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security appeared ignorant of what the Fourth Amendment is, or what it guarantees.
It used to be that this sort of jack-booted thuggery from the feds, even when the people on the receiving end were wrong themselves, was something groups like the NRA expressed outrage against. J.D. Tuccille in Reason sums up the hypocrisy going on here perfectly:
Now, violent protests — riots — are spreading beyond Portland to other cities. The federal government’s minions have successfully provoked a nasty reaction in Seattle, Austin, and elsewhere.
That was true in 1995, too. The NRA got its biggest pushback on criticism of federal agents after the Oklahoma City bombing, which was planned and carried out by extremists outraged over lethal federal abuses at Ruby Ridge and during the Waco siege. Then, as now, brutal federal tactics provoked a violent reaction with which defenders of the federal government tried to associate critics of official misconduct.
That’s a shame; if the critics had been taken seriously, we might have avoided more violence and loss of life. That is, correctly calling out “jackbooted thugs” no matter who their targets are could be a good way of trying to head-off a cycle of reactive violence, if the warnings are heeded.
But we live in a time when too many people are concerned about the treatment of their tribe rather than equal protection and decent treatment for everybody. An unfortunate number of gun rights supporters and people on the right who, quite rightly, raged against abusive ATF agents in the past are quiet about or even supportive of federal agents busting the heads of protesters.
To be fair, there is strong evidence we are all victims of the Moralistic Fallacy: Where we reject substantiated evidence in favor of our own moral intuitions. Nevertheless, the best bulwark against this fallacy/bias/trait is still universal rights that, in practice, should not be applied depending on whose ox is being gored.
The good news is that many, including those within the federal government are standing up for these universal rights. As I write this, Army National Guard Major Adam D. DeMarco has released excerpts of his statement to Congress (that I would encourage everyone to read) regarding the violent ejection of peaceful protestors from Lafayette Square so the president could take a photo-op. According to DeMarco, the demonstrators were “engaged in the peaceful expression of their First Amendment rights. Yet they were subjected to an unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force.”
I know how simplistic and cliché this might sound but maintaining our civil liberties simply requires those on the inside and out to stand up and state the obvious as DeMarco and the majority of peaceful protestors in Portland and elsewhere have. Of course, it would be foolish to expect everyone to do this or for hypocrisy to end. But there can be little doubt that public opinion has turned in favor of today’s protestors, unlike yesterday’s. In other words, the time has never been riper to vocally and peacefully defend our rights against jack-booted thuggery.
Tyler Broker’s work has been published in the Gonzaga Law Review, the Albany Law Review, and is forthcoming in the University of Memphis Law Review. Feel free to email him or follow him on Twitter to discuss his column.