The United States has been rocked by increasing tension the past few months. A pandemic is raging out of control, an economy is mid-collapse and protests of injustice have shaken the minds of many. Portland, Oregon is one of the many cities where protesting has taken center stage. Last month, the Trump administration decided to send in a surge of federal agents under the vague justification of restoring order to the city. The situation only escalated aggressively in the days following the arrival of federal agents as more locals gathered to protest their presence in addition to racial injustice. Reports of protesters and bystanders being forced into unmarked vans were common, and federal agents resorted to brutality, tear gas and pepper spray to control the crowd. The implication of this display of federal control are immense, cutting to the very core of freedom of speech and thought. Anyone who claims to hold these founding principles close while ignoring the Trump administration’s fascist response in Portland is hypocritical at best.
The first question I would like to raise is whether federal agents were justified in the first place. I would argue no. The vast majority of protesters are entirely peaceful. And for the small minority who do commit property damage, we have local law enforcement for that exact reason. Furthermore, there were few reports of illicit activity by protesters in the night leading up to the first surge of federal agents. Even if one assumes good intent on the part of the federal government, an invasion of federal troops would (and did) cause massive backlash, which would escalate the very violence the Trump administration claimed to want to end. Consequently, federal troops were not justified.
Let’s assume I am wrong, and a federal response is justified. If this were to be the case, the federal government still must operate within the confines of the law and with the sole intention to protect and serve the community. Take the countless accounts and viral videos of unmarked federal agents grabbing innocent people off the street, taking down their information, and simply leaving them somewhere else. It is not protection, but oppression, not crowd control, but kidnapping and not law enforcement, but secret police. It is fascism, plain and simple. This precedent is a fundamental infringement of freedom of speech through brute force intimidation. The government is threatening that it will grab you indiscriminately during a protest with no recourse possible, nor guarantee oversight of such transgressions.
The secret police, coupled with demonization of those that oppose the administration, is another threat to our basic institutions. The Trump administration deemed “Antifa” a domestic terrorist organization. Besides the fact that the president doesn’t have such authority, nor is Antifa even an organization (meaning one can not be a “member of Antifa”), such an action is a continuation of the demonization of political opponents as terrorists that deserve state prosecution. Trump has vocally smeared peaceful protesters, deeming them terrorists and anarchists. Let’s remember, anarchism is a political and philosophical ideology, not terrorism. It’s a view of the world, a vision for a differently structured society focused on equality and freedom. This doesn’t mean we all have to be anarchists, but it also doesn’t mean being an anarchist is tantamount to being a terrorist. Trump’s conflation of a political ideology, anarchism, with anti-fascist action, Antifa, and terrorism is a true threat to freedom of speech as well. Thus, not only has the administration facilitated the formation of secret police-style law enforcement, but is dangerously close to facilitating “thought police,” detaining and denouncing those that merely don’t share their political opinions by labeling them as terrorists.
Although numerous high-profile far-right wingers, such as Ben Shapiro and Charlie Kirk, may claim to believe in freedom when the Chinese government unjustly curtails freedom of speech, they turn a blind eye to fascism here at home, or worse, they outright cheer on this authoritarian power grab. These far-right wingers and their corresponding organizations selectively use free speech to push the narrative that it is the radical left that wants to silence political opponents and instill totalitarian rule.
To the person who genuinely cares about freedom and liberty, do not get wrapped up in their doublespeak and gaslighting. Facts matter, logic matters and we must call out fascism for what it really is, and not fall prey to propaganda labeling it as the “righteous police stopping the anarchist thugs taking over the streets.”
The United States is dancing on the edge of a very steep cliff. Authoritarianism is on the rise around the world. Fascism is not a mere fact of history, secluded to the dustbin of the past, it’s very real, even in the United States. Economic, political and social tensions will continue, and it is important we stop future anger and confusion from being funneled into fascist propagation. Quite literally, the lives of millions depend on the defeat of fascism.
Seth Gully is a junior triple-majoring in philosophy, politics and law, economics and French.