At 1:45 a.m. last Saturday in Portland, Oregon, a naked woman emerged from the smoke and fumes amid an onslaught of federal police there as part of a militarized crackdown on protesters — over objections of local leaders. Some called her the Naked Athena after the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom and warfare. Others called her Lady Godiva, a medieval streaker on a horse. Today's as-yet-unidentified nude protester did some yoga moves that prompted law enforcement officers to retreat. Portland has long given legal status to naked activists, but I suspect that this incident was memorable even for them.
Some are labeling Athena as an "Antifa psychopath" and call her stunt one more reason why federal troops should be policing Portland. Chad Wolf, head of the Department of Homeland Security, railed about Portland's "violent anarchists," but this hotbed of violent anarchy is actually a 12-block area of Portland's 145 square miles.
Federal agents were never requested, and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said that the city's tense situation had been quieting down until these squads made matters worse. Folks aren't taking kindly to camouflage-wearing agents with no identification who yank protesters into unmarked rented vans. One victim reported being locked up in an unknown location, not told why he was jailed or given access to an attorney. He was released with no citation or record of his arrest. On Wednesday night, Wheeler himself was tear-gassed by federal agents.
When the mayor tried to reason with DHS's Wolf about the lack of constitutionality, he was told to "stuff it."
A local veteran, in uniform, attended one of the protests to ask these guys why they were doing this. He'd hoped his uniform would protect him, but he was pushed to the ground, struck with batons and pepper sprayed. Facing surgery for broken bones, he says it would have been all over if he'd resisted. No wonder Portland is suing the federal government to remove these paramilitary types.
Who are these paramilitary squads? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to them as "stormtroopers." She likened them to those Nazi troops trained to be street fighters, infiltrating the enemy's weakest points, rounding up and killing targets. In reality, these officers are a combination of the U.S. Marshals Service and Department of Homeland Security guards. Reporters on the ground are referring to them as Trump's Gestapo. History buffs will recall that the Gestapo was also formed by combining security police from various agencies and eventually becoming an official part of the Third Reich under Hitler's command.
Does it not echo this history that Trump sent federal forces against protesters at Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., in June? Doesn't it sound familiar — that he threatened to use the military to "dominate" the streets where Americans demonstrate? Thankfully, experts such as Gen. Jim Mattis, Trump's former secretary of defense, objected to this use of the military on native soil.
But despite objections from Mattis and others, these forces have been deployed to Portland and other cities. We're hearing about plans to deploy troops to more cities, specifically cities run by Democratic mayors, for as Trump claims, "They are liberally run, they are stupidly run."
Portland's mayor's response should resonate with all of us: "Mr. President, federal agencies should never be used as your own personal army."
Portland's mothers are even more pointed. Wearing helmets and masks, they formed a Wall of Moms between the officers and protesters and chanted: "Feds stay clear, moms are here!"
We're experiencing unprecedented divisions, but maybe we ain't seen nothin' yet. I'd have protested naked in the streets if I were younger. I might do it anyway.
Contact Deborah Levine, an author, trainer/coach and editor of the American Diversity Report, at firstname.lastname@example.org.