Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to the Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. Follow her on Twitter @fridaghitis. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. Read more opinion on CNN.
How far will President Donald Trump go to win re-election? We will only know the answer in November – perhaps later – but for a look at the more sinister aspects of his campaign, take a look at what is happening in Portland, Oregon, and pair it with the overarching theme of Trump’s campaign ads, now trying to paint America as a raging inferno of anarchist mayhem.
In recent days, federal security forces have taken to the streets of Portland, clad in camouflage gear suitable for a war zone, and handling anti-racism protesters with tactics reminiscent of dictatorships.
The people of Portland have been busy recording and sharing the appalling scenes, as operatives in unmarked uniforms and camouflage have grabbed people off the street, sometimes appearing to subdue them in the process, and bundled them away into vehicles.
Oregon Public Broadcasting documented the allegations of a protester, Mark James Pettibone, who said he was walking home long after the demonstration Wednesday night, when several “guys in camo,” grabbed him, threw him in an unmarked van, pulling his hat down over his eyes.
“I couldn’t see and they held my hands over my head,” he told reporters.
The people detaining him never identified themselves, he said, or explained why he has being held. He told Oregon Public Broadcasting that they took him to what he would learn was a federal detention center, where, he said, he was made to face the wall while he was patted down, photographed and then put into a cell. He said two officers came in to read him his Miranda rights, he asked for a lawyer and was eventually released.
According to OPB: “In a statement, the U.S. Marshals Service declined to comment on the practice of using unmarked vehicles, but said their officers had not arrested Pettibone. ‘All United States Marshals Service arrestees have public records of arrest documenting their charges. Our agency did not arrest or detain Mark James Pettibone.’”
Other Oregon protesters are telling and showing similar stories. One video, which went viral this week, showed two men in full camouflage gear rapidly approaching a young protester – with hands raised – on the street at night, apprehending the person, hustling them to a minivan and driving off. It was unclear what became of this protester, but in a statement on Friday, according to the Washington Post, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection said its agents had taken the action and that they ‘had information indicating the person in the video was suspected of assaults against federal agents or destruction of federal property.’”
In what is clearly hyperbole – but captures the reaction – the actions of the unidentified federal forces in Portland sent the hashtag #Gestapo trending on Twitter.
Who detained Pettibone? Nobody’s saying, and the Marshals Service appear to have disavowed the encounter.
Using unmarked security forces is the hallmark tactic of a despot, and it may well be unconstitutional in the United States, especially when done without following proper police procedure. In fact, it is likely a violation of Justice Department rules. In 2014, the Civil Rights Division chastised the Ferguson, Missouri, police for allowing its officers to not display their names on their uniforms, calling it a “near-universal requirement of sound police practices.”
Not identifying the agency is far, far worse. There is zero accountability; no process for tracking abuses. It all but guarantees excesses.