A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Col Owens: Gestapo tactics must stop now; speak out for the America we know and love, not this


We have recently witnessed in Portland, Oregon, an occurrence which should never happen in our America – the insertion of unidentified armed men in unmarked vehicles “arresting” – i.e., kidnapping – unarmed civilians off the street. With no evidence of authority, no warrant for arrest.

These people are mostly engaged in peaceful protest demonstrations.

This is not the country we live in. Even after almost four years of Donald Trump’s outrageous and largely failed presidency, this is a new and extremely dangerous low.

Words come to mind. Gestapo tactics. Fascism. Many reject such language. But many others nod their heads. The rise of fascism in Europe is too recent, too vivid in our minds. Those who cannot imagine it could happen here are not paying attention. It has started.

Col Owens

What is not well known is that the Department of Homeland Security – DHS – hires large numbers of contract employees to do this work of “crowd control,” supposedly the protection of federal properties, through an internal agency called the Federal Protective Service (FPS). According to sources, the agency is comprised largely of such contractors. They are furnished to FPS/DHS by major private security companies like the Blackwater corporate descendant Triple Canopy, along with many others. Blackwater was a major source of contract mercenaries for the Iraq war.

The situation in Portland is not a one-off thing. Trump has promised that he is sending federal agents to Chicago, because of alleged out-of-control violence there – despite the Mayor’s having indicated she does not want or need such forces. Beyond that, Trump has said that he would send as many as 75,000 troops to American cities – specifically, American cities with Democratic mayors, on the pretext that they will not keep order – whether invited or not.

This is not the America we know and love. Despite our problems, we value and support local and state government, and their authority and responsibility for dealing with local situations. On occasion, when pressed beyond their resources, they can invite in federal assistance. But the federal government does not have the authority to come in without invitation and take over. And certainly not with an army of mercenaries acting – yes – like Gestapo agents.

We cannot allow such actions. There are many wrongs these days that need to be addressed. But this street action in Portland is a portent of possibilities too fearful to ignore. What is Trump’s point? To support his narrative that America has descended into chaos from which only he can deliver us, to enhance his chances for re-election? To prepare us for his refusal to turn over power, should he lose the election in November? To prepare us for a decision to cancel the election, under the same pretense?

Many will read this and scoff. Not here, they say. Much as Germans said in the 30’s. Well, turn on your TV and watch events in Portland. Yes, here.

Rep. John Lewis said, when you see something wrong, say something, do something.

We’re seeing something dreadfully wrong. Let’s speak up. Let’s stop this now.

Col Owens is a retired attorney. He teaches Poverty Law at NKU’s Chase College of Law. His memoir, Bending the Arc Toward Justice, (Cincinnati Book Publishing, 2020 is coming out in the fall.


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