No to Military/Police Rule: Mobilize Workers Power!
Trump and Democrats
Ominous Trial Run for Martial Law
Squads of police and federal agents brutally push protesters out of Lafayette Park for Donald Trump’s photo op, June 1.
In the days following the May 25 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop, furious protests spread from coast to coast, including right in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. As the outrage escalated, massive marches across the country were met with violent attacks by cops beating protesters and carrying out mass arrests. The media broadcast images of police cars trashed and torched. At the seat of presidential power on Friday night, May 29, as protesters surged outside, the Secret Service rushed Donald Trump and his family to an underground bunker. Racist-in-chief Trump let loose a barrage of tweets vowing that protesters would be met with “vicious dogs” and threatening that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” echoing a Southern sheriff’s threats to shoot black youth in 1960s protests.
With military vehicles in the streets of Seattle, the National Guard patrolling Minneapolis and police clashing with demonstrators across the street in Lafayette Park on Sunday, Trump hunkered down in a largely deserted White House with external lights dimmed. Angry that word had leaked of his time in the bunker, the next morning, June 1, he was determined to look tough. In a conference call he vituperated against Democratic governors, saying “most of you are weak” and that if they didn’t crack down they would “look like a bunch of jerks.” The demonstrators are “terrorists,” he declared, calling to track “trouble makers” and “put them in jail for ten years.” He ended saying, “the word is dominate…. wait till I get in Washington and D.C., we’re gonna do something that people haven’t seen before. But you’ve got to have total domination.”
Next was a Rose Garden press conference, where Trump issued a pronunciamiento, that “mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming presence until the violence is quelled.” If not, “then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.” “I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters,” he declared, while on the other side of the White House, his black-uniformed SS (Secret Service) thugs and military police launched pepper gas against peaceful protesters and bashed journalists with riot shields. All so the commander in chief could march across the park, with his attorney general Bill Barr, “defense” secretary Mark Esper and the chairman of the joint chiefs, General Mark Milley (in battle fatigues), in tow, to St. John’s Episcopal Church to pose for photos with a bible as a prop.
Protester confronts Trump's SS (Secret Service) blackshirts outside the White House.
In his photo-op at the church, which was angrily denounced by the Episcopal bishop, Trump announced, “As we speak, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults and the wanton destruction of property.” Earlier, in the call with the governors, Esper declared, “We need to dominate the battlespace” of the streets. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) called for Trump to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty military to cities, “the 10th Mountain, 82nd Airborne, 1st Cav, 3rd Infantry – whatever it takes to restore order. No quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters.” This is a call to commit war crimes, to take no prisoners, kill them all. Trump retweeted Cotton’s bloodcurdling call, saying “Thanks, Tom.”
The response of the Democratic governors to Trump’s threats was a limp “no thanks” to his “offer” to send in the troops. They treated it as one more example of Trump’s bluster. New York governor Andrew Cuomo called it “shameful.” Minnesota governor Tim Walz said putting the military in the streets was “unsustainable militarily,” and socially, “because it’s the antithesis of how we live.” No emergency press conferences, no resolutions from the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives against Trump’s ominous threat of imposing direct military rule. And for good reason: the Dems were already using military force to suppress protests. “How we live” in Minnesota was that Democrat Farmer-Labor governor Walz had the National Guard in the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul, for which he earned Trump’s praise.
But the threat of doing “something that people haven’t seen before” to quell protests was more than the usual bully-boy boasting from the racist in the Oval Office. Donald Trump did, in fact, bring into the Washington area troops from the 82nd Airborne Division, headquartered in Fort Bragg, North Carolina (named for Confederate general Braxton Bragg), along with over 4,000 National Guard troops. Florida sent 500 Guardsmen to D.C., Idaho contributed 400, Indiana 300, Maryland 120, Mississippi 400, Ohio 100, South Carolina 445, Tennessee 1,000 and Utah 200. That’s in addition to 1,200 District of Columbia National Guard troops, who are under direct presidential command. Eleven of the 13 states that sent troops had Republican governors. In effect it was a Republican military occupation of 93% Democratic D.C.
In the U.S. capital, National Guard troops quickly set up a perimeter around the White House, lining up troop transport trucks and armored personnel carriers in front of government buildings and stationing Humvees at key intersections. A new eight-foot tall black fence was erected to prevent protesters (and anyone else) from even entering Lafayette Park. Hundreds of masked federal agents in black and camouflage uniforms with no name tags, no badges, no identifying insignias of any kind, took up position around the city, refusing to say what agency they were with. Some were later identified as being riot police from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. In addition, at least a dozen other federal agencies were mobilized to “dominate” protesters, including the FBI, DEA, I.C.E., FPS, TSA, PFPA, Border Patrol, Capitol Police, Park Police and Secret Service.
D.C. National Guard medevac helicopter flying below rooftop-level over protesters, battering them with gale-force winds on the night of June 1.
There was an outcry over the incident on the night of June 1, when two military helicopters tried to intimidate protesters who defied the curfew ordered by Washington’s Democratic mayor, Muriel Bowser. A Black Hawk combat copter and a Lakota medevac helicopter hovered over marchers in the streets, their rotors producing deafening noise, breaking tree branches and battering protesters with tropical storm-level winds. The medevac copter (with its Red Cross) was as low as 45 feet above ground, well below rooftop level (“A low-flying ‘show of force’,” Washington Post, 25 June). Yet Pentagon tops claimed not to know who ordered this maneuver, until Army secretary Ryan McCarthy admitted he had ordered it to “observe” the demos. So Trump, who is formally commander of the D.C. Guard, had created his own chain of command.
Meanwhile, despite assurances to Congress from top Pentagon intelligence officials that the military was not spying on demonstrators, Air National Guard units were doing just that. RC-25 surveillance aircraft from the West Virginia and Pennsylvania National Guards were in the air for hours above demonstrations in Washington, despite the statement by Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor Tom Wolf that he would not send Guard units to D.C. at Trump’s request. RC-25s from the Arkansas and Wisconsin Guards did the same over protests in Minneapolis, at the request of Minnesota’s Democratic governor Walz. The FBI had one of its most sophisticated spy planes in the air over Washington. And that is surely just the tip of the iceberg. The mobilization of military assets in response to Trump’s demand was a serious attempt to impose martial law.
As for the 700 troops from the 82nd Airborne, they were held at Joint Base Andrews and Fort Belvoir outside Washington, along with another 1,400 soldiers (including the 16th and 91st Military Police Brigades) ready to be deployed on an hour’s notice. They were armed with automatic weapons, supplied with riot gear and issued bayonets. According to army chief McCarthy, Pentagon leaders “came right up to the edge” of sending those troops into D.C. (Stars & Stripes, 8 June). What stopped them was not any outcry from Democrats, but disagreement by top military leaders, past and present, with Trump’s stratagem to suppress protests by invoking the Insurrection Act, which had been used against Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion and 1968 ghetto revolts in D.C., Baltimore and Chicago following the assassination of Martin Luther King.
Trump’s secret army: federal agents without name tags, badges or any identifying insignia occupy the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, June 2.
Trump’s move was no spur-of-the-moment reaction to Black Lives Matter protesters faceing off with the cops, but is part of a drive – shared with the Democrats – to beef up military/police power. This push toward bonapartist1 rule is international in scope as decaying capitalism increasingly requires a “strong state” to keep order. From the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, we have noted that key sectors of the U.S. imperialist ruling class would use this crisis to try out plans for martial law. On March 16, even as Trump was merrily predicting that COVID-19 would “disappear … like a miracle” come spring, his administration chartered a Joint Task Force National Capital Region (JTF-NCR) in order to secure Washington, D.C. in case a devastating epidemic threatened to cripple the government.
Less than a week later, an exercise, “Falcon Virgo,” was held in the skies over El Paso, Texas, at an Army range over Ft. Bliss that was “gridded out to simulate the airspace of Washington, DC,” in order to train a unit of the Mississippi National Guard “for the upcoming deployment in the nation's capital” (“As Washington D.C. Faces Coronavirus Spike, Secret Military Task Force Prepares to Secure the Capital,” Newsweek, 16 April). A second “Falcon Virgo” exercise was held in D.C. on April 7. The JTF-NCR is commanded by Major General Omar J. Jones IV, with 10,000 troops at his orders, including the Army’s 3rd Infantry Battalion. In his leisure time, Newsweek reported, Gen. Jones had just read the book, Nation on Fire (2009), about the “riots” that led police to flee Washington after King’s assassination.
Already under Democrat Barack Obama, a Pentagon directive stated that “Federal military forces shall not be used to quell civil disturbances unless specifically authorized by the President in accordance with applicable law … or permitted under emergency authority…. In these circumstances, those Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances” (DoD Directive No. 3025.18, 29 December 2010). Under Republican Trump, in October 2018 the Joint Chiefs of Staff codified these directives for imposing martial law to put down mass protests.
The white supremacist in the White House cowers behind barrier of military troop transports as thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters demonstrate, June 3.
So when Trump boasted on June 1 that he would “do something that people haven’t seen before,” the groundwork had already been laid. All that was required was his invocation of the Insurrection Act. But there he ran into a problem: opposition from the Pentagon top brass. Joint Chiefs chairman Milley was reportedly against it, although defense secretary Esper went along. A day later, Esper changed his tune and declared that active-duty troops should not be used to put down protests, saying: “I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.” The New York Times (4 June) reported: “Mr. Esper’s comments reflected the turmoil within the military over Mr. Trump, who in seeking to put American troops on the streets alarmed top Pentagon officials fearful that the military would be seen as participating in a move toward martial law.”
What Trump was doing was a trial run at what in Latin America would be called an autogolpe (or “self-coup”) such as Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori engineered in 1992, freeing himself from any parliamentary restraint. The presidency has always had strong powers in American bourgeois “democracy,” made even stronger in the imperialist epoch as the U.S. has sought to rule the world (what liberals like Gore Vidal have called the “national security state”). These powers were further expanded after the 11 September 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Trump needed no approval of any person or body to decree his authoritarian rule. But he had to have someone to carry it out, and the generals balked. Instead, they sent in the National Guard, and instructed them to defend Lafayette Park as “the Alamo,” as Brig. Gen. Robert K. Ryan of the D.C. National Guard told the troops
The turmoil at the top was so great that at one point, Esper ordered 200 rapid deployment troops of the 82nd Airborne back to Bragg, only to have Trump angrily order him to reverse it. (When asked if the president still had confidence in the defense chief, the White House press secretary replied that, “as of right now, Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper.”) Gen. Milley issued a directive to top military leaders saying that “Every member of the U.S. military swears an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” based on “the essential principle that all men and women are born free and equal, and should be treated with respect and dignity” including the “right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.” He added pointedly that the National Guard was still operating under the authority of state governors (i.e., not the president).
Milley’s declaration was followed by similar messages from the chiefs of staff of the Army, Navy and Air Force. Trump’s previous defense secretary, retired Marine Corps general Jim Mattis, issued a statement denouncing Trump for ordering troops to “violate the rights of their fellow citizens,” declaring: “We must reject any thinking of our cities as a ‘battlespace’ that our uniformed military is called upon to ‘dominate’.” These military chiefs are hardliners, war criminals one and all, who have commanded the wanton slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, who pushed to keep U.S. occupation troops in Syria, who today are itching for war with Iran and North Korea, and tomorrow with Russia and China. But they worried that Trump’s actions would cast the military into an abyss.
“We are at the most dangerous time for civil-military relations I’ve seen in my lifetime,” wrote Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, a retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The chiefs know full well that putting elite military units, trained to be a killing machine, into U.S. streets could very well lead to a bloodbath far greater than the Kent State (Ohio) and Jackson State (Mississippi) massacres of antiwar students in 1970 – and that the heightened “civil unrest” this would ignite could lead to rebellions in the ranks.
On the other hand, they are particularly concerned, and said so, that fully 40% of active-duty and reserve military personnel are African American, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islanders or members of other racial/ethnic minorities. They worried that troops would not fire on (or bayonet) demonstrators protesting racism if ordered to do so. They are haunted by the “Vietnam syndrome,” when black troops in particular revolted against their officers and non-coms and the U.S. military suffered a stinging defeat.
Then there was the silence of the Democrats. Even though Trump’s ire was directed at them, they looked to the military. The Democratic Party’s ties with it run deep: from World War I on, U.S. imperialism’s wars have largely been waged under their administrations. Over the past period, the Democrats have assiduously sought to bolster this connection with the military and “intelligence community.” In 2018, roughly half of the Democrats newly elected to Congress were from intelligence backgrounds. From the beginning of the Trump presidency, the Democratic Party has called on the Pentagon and spy agencies to keep the bellicose, xenophobic white supremacist in the White House in check, while hailing top figures in the U.S.’ mass-murder and spy apparatus as heroes in the anti-Trump “Resistance.”
Minnesota National Guard occupied south Minneapolis, called in by Democratic Farmer-Labor Party governor and mayor, May 29.
Just as importantly, in virtually every major city in the U.S., as we have put it, “Democrats are the bosses of the racist killer cops.” George Floyd (Minneapolis), Eric Garner (New York), Laquan McDonald (Chicago), Freddie Gray (Baltimore), Breonna Taylor (Louisville) and hundreds more were murdered by police under Democratic Party mayors. And now, from Rhode Island to Minnesota to Colorado to California, Oregon and Washington state, it is Democratic governors who have deployed National Guard units against anti-racist protesters.
Early on in the coronavirus crisis, California governor Gavin Newsom announced the mobilization of the National Guard, while emphasizing, “We have the ability to do martial law ... if we feel the necessity.” At the same time, a train with close to 300 tanks rolled through Los Angeles, on the way from the Ventura naval base heading out into the desert of the Inland Empire. To do what? A prosecutor in Santa Clara County remarked, “Right now we’re putting parts of the Constitution on hold. We really are. Freedom of assembly. Right to practice religion” (New York Times, 12 May). A year earlier, residents were startled by Army training exercises in downtown L.A. and Long Beach, “to enhance soldier skills by operating in various urban environments and settings.”
Meanwhile, it was Democratic New York City mayor Bill de Blasio that defended police who on May 30 deliberately rammed their SUVs into protesters, and who imposed an abusive curfew, supposedly to stop “looting,” but which was used almost exclusively to arrest dozens of protesters by “kettling” them. It was black Democrat Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot who that same day carried out kettling on a vast scale by raising the bridges connecting the downtown Loop to the rest of the city and cutting off “El” trains so that trapped demonstrators could not escape, while police arrested hundreds and threw them into COVID-infested jails. In Los Angeles under Democratic mayor Eric Garcetti, also on May 30, the LAPD surrounded and trapped protesters and then raised a hue and cry about “looting” a few blocks away.
It was in Philadelphia, with a Democratic mayor and black woman police chief, where on June 1, police violently attacked a peaceful demonstration, launching tear gas at a crowd of protesters. And in Seattle, with a Democratic woman mayor and black woman police chief, the cops, also on June 1, violently broke up a demo, without warning, indiscriminately pepper-spraying marchers, launching tear gas and flash-bang grenades. The list goes on and on. In all of these cases, video evidence shows conclusively that police wantonly attacked protests against the cop murder of George Floyd with more racist repression. And the vast majority of the arrests on June 1 and the days before and after – in city after city, including in Washington, D.C. were carried out by police under the command of Democratic mayors.
The big-mouth all-round racist, xenophobe and misogynist Donald Trump is an outlier. His attempt at imposing martial law in the nation’s capital was bungled. But when it comes to the cop repression that systematically violates the Constitutional rights of the U.S. population (including undocumented immigrants), that imposes racist police occupation of African American ghettos and Latino barrios, that kills more than 1,700 civilians a year, that holds more than 2 million people in jails and prisons, more than five times the number behind bars in 1970, the large majority for no serious crime at all – this is overwhelmingly carried out by Democrats. In addition to being the No. 1 imperialist war party, they are the No. 1 party of racist repression in the U.S., going back to when professional police grew out of slave-catching patrols in the early 1800s.
Internationalist contingent at June 2 protest in Manhattan calls for workers strikes now against racist terror and martial law threats.
What should be the response of those who fight for the oppressed against this systematic racist repression? When Trump threatened to introduce martial law and began to carry out that threat with a military occupation of Washington, D.C., the Internationalist Group and Revolutionary Internationalist Youth immediately raised a call for workers strikes now against racist terror and martial law threats no to military/police rule – mobilize workers power. We demanded free all protesters – drop the charges and called for police out of the schools and the unions. In New York City IG/RIY signs proclaimed, “It’s Not Just Republican Trump, Democrat de Blasio is the Boss of the Racist NYPD – Build a Revolutionary Workers Party!” And we highlighted our call for black liberation through socialist revolution.
In the face of liberal and reformist talk of “reforming” the unreformable police, as Marxists we underline that racism, and racist repression, are the expression of the underlying racial and ethnic oppression which is at the core of U.S. capitalism, founded on chattel slavery of Africans and genocide of Native Americans, a legacy that is very much alive today. Fighting for the Trotskyist program of revolutionary integrationism, we call for the workers movement to bring out its tremendous power – as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union did on Juneteenth by shutting down every port on the West Coast – together with and in defense of all the oppressed. The key lesson, from the 2014 protests over the police murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown to the continuing upheaval over the murder of George Floyd, is that only revolution can bring justice! ■
- 1. Marxists use the term bonapartism to refer to regimes based on military and police power masked by “democratic” trappings. After the most radical leaders of the French Revolution of 1789 were ousted in 1794, the period of revolutionary turmoil was finally ended with the 1799 coup by army leader Napoleon Bonaparte, who used pseudo-democratic plebiscites (vote yes or no) to disguise what was in fact a dictatorship. In his article “Bonapartism and Fascism” (July 1934), analyzing the governments that led up to Hitler’s seizure of power in Germany the year before, Leon Trotsky wrote: “A government which raises itself above the nation is not, however, suspended in air. The true axis of the present government passes through the police, the bureaucracy, the military clique. It is a military-police dictatorship with which we are confronted, barely concealed with the decorations of parliamentarism. But a government of the saber as the judge arbiter of the nation – that’s just what bonapartism is.”