This story isn’t about condemning federal agents operating in American cities.
It’s specifically about Trump–or any future like-minded President–using the Department of Homeland Security against Americans who don’t agree with him…
So before some of you get on us about this, let us make it clear our point today is not to discuss the validity of any of the divisions within DHS, including CBP and ICE. We are also not arguing today about whether the President has the authority and/or responsibility to protect federal buildings and even statues, as some of you angrily suggested we were in an earlier story we wrote. (Even though it seems pretty clear to us from what we’ve seen of Portland, and heard from our friends there, Trump’s show of strength and political posturing goes far beyond that).
You’ll also note we didn’t use the “A” word (abolish), or the “C” word (cancel) or the other “D” word (defund). Not that we think it makes much difference. Just that since everybody’s attacking everybody else these days on labels and words, why not be a little circumspect?
When we look at Oregon, or soon probably elsewhere, let’s be clear what we’re objecting to/taking about.
Federal agents are in major cities all the time. Not a huge problem. The FBI, ATF, and Justice Department, just to name a few, have regional branches and field offices all over the place, and have operated extensively in most major cities for years. And that includes extensive investigations independent of or with the cooperation of local police forces, and making arrests.
Also, the National Guard has played a major role at times at both times of natural disaster and in enforcing federal law. They were in Minnesota, and in DC, but the US military apparently pushed back against expanding that role based on Trump’s will alone. So more recently he’s gone a different route.
And that’s where we run into trouble. Because all the federal agencies and troops we mentioned so far are outside the Department of Homeland Security. And DHS is not the military, even though it’s suiting its people up like they are.
Trump’s folks aren’t being coy about this. Or anything about ongoing protests, really. Trump senior advisor Stephen Miller characterizes protestors as “secessionists”, like they’re somehow automatically traitors because they’ve elected Democratic Mayors and don’t agree with Trump. Trump calls them “actually anarchists”, and the now well-known “wall of moms” a “scam”. (We needn’t point out, but will, that at the same time, Trump is bending over backwards to protect the legacy of actual traitors who actually did attempt to break off from the U.S. during the Civil War, which no one we’ve seen in the current protests against Trump is actively promoting or doing.)
So DHS is where Trump has turned to assist in his crackdowns. As many have pointed out, Homeland Security is almost exclusively headed right now by people in “acting” or actually unofficial capacities, because they have not been approved by the Senate. Which is required by the Constitution, except apparently if you’re a President intent on flouting the law.
The screengrab above doesn’t even include the current director of CBP, who is also serving in an “acting” capacity. If the name Mark Morgan is familiar to you, it’s because Trump’s been Retweeting him incessantly, maybe as part of a deal with campaign advisors where the President Tweets less himself, (but apparently doesn’t count Retweets as generating content.)
DHS was started after 9/11 mainly to consolidate and streamline various agencies involved in protecting people inside the country from terrorists, mostly who would be infiltrating from the outside. So the focus was mostly outward-looking; scrutinizing people attempting to enter the U.S.
In fact, here is DHS’ original stated goal as introduced by then President George W. Bush:
“The strategic objectives of homeland security in order of priority are to:
• Prevent terrorist attacks within the United States;
• Reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism; and
• Minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur.”
Explaining further its objective to:
“The Office will coordinate the executive branch’s efforts to detect, prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks within the United States.”
Interestingly, Tom Ridge, whom President Bush appointed as the first DHS Secretary, recently said, were he a governor:
“It would be a cold day in hell before I would consent to an uninvited, unilateral intervention into one of my cities.”
This in counter to acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf telling Fox News:
“I don’t need invitations by the state, state mayors, or state governors to do our job. We’re going to do that, whether they like us there or not.”
But is it “their” job? Or are they just the most willing accomplices?
Ridge further explaining:
“The department was established to protect America from the ever-present threat of global terrorism. It was not established to be the president’s personal militia.”
That earned him a nasty Tweet from Trump.
So the establishment of DHS after 9/11 put a lot of power in a centralized place, and did so fairly efficiently, when the objective was to protect people on the inside from the outside. Now that it’s being used to throw a net over people on the inside who don’t agree with the President, maybe the objective has, like, veered wildly off?
And DHS is now the biggest non-military related cabinet department in terms of personnel, although it’s in the middle in terms of annual budget.
We’ve long argued though, that if Trump wins a second term and starts pulling U.S. troops not just out of the Mideast but also Europe and Japan and Korea, he might be inclined to shift some of them over to a domestic purpose. Trump needs the defense budget to expand in order to support U.S. manufacturing of weapons. He may not need more soldiers. So when he threatens to send tens of thousands of federal officers into inner cities it’s kind of an empty threat right now. But it might not be forever.
DHS doesn’t only include Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), although those are probably its two highest profile divisions right now, and CBP has played a large part in the conflict still unfolding in Oregon.
DHS also has under its wing such disparate organizations as the TSA (the people that check you at the airport), Secret Service (which used to be part of the Treasury Department), the U.S. Coast Guard (often assumed to be a branch of the military, which it is, sort of, in that it can be transferred to the U.S. Navy at the direction of the President, but right now it’s not), as well as FEMA, which handles mostly natural disasters.
So it’s a lot of big government packed into once place. And now when the President decides he wants to use his power to scrutinize Americans, and put down those who would oppose his views, he can, without having to build large consensus among a whole bunch of different groups. This is a problem.
Because DHS has clearly outlived its original stated function. And transformed into something else. And is now being remade in Trump’s image by his non-Senate approved henchmen. And whatever you think about disbanding the police (and whatever that means to you), the DHS perhaps deserves even more of a look.