Trump hails Obama! How the US president has turned to his predecessor’s ugly methods of repressing dissent to tackle BLM
The US Constitution’s Bill of Rights makes it crystal clear in the First Amendment to the nation’s founding document, added in 1791, when it states: “Congress shall make no law … abridging … the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
How, then, to explain what happened on June 1. On that day, President Donald Trump took a bizarre stroll out of the White House and across the little pocket park known as Lafayette Square (a traditional site for protests against everything from cruelty to animals to undeclared US wars on Third World nations) for a publicity photo shoot of him awkwardly holding a Bible in front of a boarded-up historic church.
But prior to that clumsy stunt, his Attorney General William Barr had ordered a brigade of armored-up National Park Police, backed by a unit of National Guard troops, to attack a bunch of peaceful, unarmed and unwarned protesters, driving them from the vicinity with tear gas, rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades.
The protesters had gathered earlier in the day outside the White House, in the park and on H Street in front of the old church, to “peaceably assemble” and to “petition” and make known to the president and Congress their anger and dismay over mounting police violence against black Americans.
‘Go in and wipe them out’
It was, at first, hard to understand what was happening and why. Was it just that the president was afraid to have his photo shoot marred by noisy but peaceful protesters? Earlier in the day he had given a strident and intemperate speech calling for state and city officials to “dominate” the streets to shut down protests taking place across the country – most of which were peaceful – in reaction to the brutal videotaped strangulation by a knee on the neck of George Floyd.
A day later, the leaked transcript of a group phone call by President Trump, his Attorney General William Barr, and his Pentagon Secretary Mark Esper, to governors of all 50 US states, made it clear what was going on.
On that call, Trump recalled an earlier period of national protests called the Occupy Movement, which had seen hundreds and thousands of protesters against economic inequality and joblessness ‘occupy’ public spaces, beginning a block from Wall Street in Manhattan, NY on September 17, 2011, and quickly spreading to dozens of US cities for a period of several months into late November.
A New York real estate executive based in Manhattan back then, Trump recalled to the governors how the violent, coordinated nationwide police crackdown on a wholly and conscientiously peaceful protest moment had begun. Referring first to the current uprisings led by Black Lives Matter, he said almost wistfully:
“This is like Occupy Wall Street. It was a disaster until one day somebody said, ‘That’s enough.’ And they just went in and wiped them out. And it’s the last time I heard the name Occupy Wall Street… They [had] closed Wall Street, the financial district of the world! And they had total domination… Nobody did anything. And then one day somebody said, ‘That’s enough. You get them out of here within two hours.’ And it was bedlam for an hour. Then after that, everything was beautiful.”
What the president described as “beautiful,” had actually been intentionally brutal, with police and mayors in 18 cities sharing advice on how to destroy the Occupy Movement in their cities – advice that included using maximum force and brutality, night raids, militarized weapons like rubber bullets, bean-bag projectiles, tear gas and pepper spray, batons, sound cannons and flash-bang grenades.
The goal was to terrify the occupiers and deter them from returning after being rousted from their encampments. It had all been coordinated and orchestrated by President Obama’s Department of Homeland Security, which had declared the peaceful protest movement to be a “potential terrorist” threat.
Trump’s uncharacteristic praise for Obama
Indeed, following Trump’s surprisingly complimentary reference to the Obama administration’s bust-up of the Occupy Wall Street encampment (perhaps the only time in four years that this president has had a good thing to say about an action of his predecessor), AG Barr spoke. He told the assembled governors of his and the administration’s intention to use the anti-terrorism approach of the “Occupy model” to spy on and then crush the current wave of urban uprisings and protests over police brutality and militarization.
As Barr put it, “The structure we’re going to use is the joint terrorist task force, which I know most of you are familiar with. Tried and true system. It’s worked for domestic and homegrown terrorists, and we’re going to employ that model.”
By labeling a political action or movement terrorism, the government can use what are known as Fusion Centers, which are a very opaque merging, usually in one building, of intelligence people from local and state police, and from a variety of federal intelligence and police agencies ranging from the FBI and CIA to the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Cyber Command, the DEA, the Federal Police, and others, to share information with each other about activists and protest leaders. The US Justice Department can then work to build cases against those who are surveilled, with the goal of filing terror conspiracy charges against them in the hope of locking people away for years or decades. It amounts to the action of a police state.
According to the National Lawyers Guild, which has been providing legal services to protesters caught up in police attacks on their demonstrations, it’s clear that this is precisely what has been happening. NLG Executive Director Pooja Gehi tells RT: “What Barr means by the ‘Occupy Model’ is a coordinated federal/state/local program to target activists and local organizers in order to charge them with serious terrorism felonies.”
She notes that the NLG’s attorneys around the country, in places like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, are all hearing reports that FBI agents are “accompanying police who are knocking on people’s doors.” Pooja warns that involvement of G-Men in any questioning of suspects is dangerous because of a federal law that makes it a serious felony simply to provide false information to an FBI agent.
When the right to “peaceably assemble” outside the White House to “petition the government for a redress of grievances” like rampant police brutality is so threatened, that sacred First Amendment of the Constitution starts looking pretty tattered and faded, leaving some US citizens wondering at this point if it will survive until election day on Nov. 3.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.