Among other rights — speech, religion, press, etc. — the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution addresses protests in no uncertain terms: “... The right of the people peaceably to assemble” shall not be abridged.
But that has not been the case in Portland, Oregon. By now, just about all broadcast and cable TV networks have carried fairly horrendous videos of what journalists have guessed is a move by federal troops to eliminate that First Amendment right.
Given that the fellows in camouflage wore no insignia and had no name badges, it could well be speculated that the troops were a “well-armed militia” or a gang of right-wingers. This episode reminds us of the Chicago riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, but at least those police officers had insignia and identification.
Because these fellows — armed with rifles, pepper and tear gas canisters, and batons — remain unidentified, speculation runs rampant. What is known is that when a person is kidnapped and states that his rights are being violated, release occurs without any charges or any apology.
No doubt, there were acts of violence against federal property, and no doubt, there were a few anarchists among the peaceful assembly. But the “troops,” — ostensibly there to protect said federal property — did not discriminate. Among those beaten or thrust into unmarked vans was a person going home and a U.S. Navy veteran. For the most part, those kidnapped were not posing any threat to federal property.
But then, our president seemed to indicate that the troops were in Portland at his orders, and he then threatened to send federal troops to a number of major cities — Baltimore, Chicago, San Francisco and many others — not to help local police with crimes but to apparently quell peaceful assemblies.
If that is true, then the troops were operating under the president's orders, and that is truly scary. This is not a dictatorship where the Dear Leader can safely ignore the rule of law. However, the words of the Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security seemed to similarly ignore the U.S. Constitution. He asserted that federal troops did not need to be invited and that if local leaders didn't like it, too bad.
One of those leaders — Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago — stated that federal troops were welcome only if they came to assist the police; otherwise, she stated, “It ain't going to happen." Other mayors should adopt the same stance. To be sure, Lightfoot did not indicate what would be done if, as the DHS guy stated, the federal troops came uninvited anyway.
To add to concerns that we are no longer living in a country ruled by law, the president, when Chris Wallace of Fox News asked him directly about whether he would accept the November election results, would not answer the question. If the results are that he loses, then where would the new president go? Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, stated that the White House would be “fumigated” as if the existing president is a rat or cockroach.
But if unidentified federal troops set out to destroy the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of the right to peaceably assemble and the president will not say whether he will accept the results of the November election, our country is no longer free.
Law and order have become unlawful disorder.
Ken Midkiff lives in Columbia and writes occasional columns for the Globe.