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Sonali Kolhatkar

In Trump’s America, there is death before due process

The federal government's killing of Michael Reinoehl exactly two months before the November 3 presidential race ought to have been one of the most high-profile election issues being discussed in America. Instead, it has been almost forgotten save for some media outlets starting to question the official narrative of his death. The little-known self-proclaimed "antifa" activist was killed by federal agents on September 3. Officers claimed that he had fired shots at them before being gunned down. But a week after his killing, the Washington Post found that "the wanted man wasn't obviously armed."

The Thurston County sheriff in Lacey, Washington, where the suspect was killed, released a public statement saying his investigation team "can confirm… that Mr. Reinoehl pointed the handgun that he had in his possession at the officers at the time of the shooting." The U.S. Marshals Service whose forces were the ones that shot Reinoehl released a similar statement claiming that the fugitive task force that had been sent to his location "attempted to peacefully arrest him," but, after being shot at, "Task force members responded to the threat and struck the suspect who was pronounced dead at the scene."

News outlets took the official statements at their word and dutifully reported the incident as one where a suspected killer opened fire on officers and was fatally shot in the course of his arrest. In other words, there was "nothing to see here." But according to a New York Times investigation six weeks after his death, it remains unclear "whether law enforcement officers made any serious attempt to arrest Mr. Reinoehl before killing him."

According to nearly two dozen witnesses that the New York Times spoke to, "all but one said they did not hear officers identify themselves or give any commands before opening fire." Even though Reinoehl was armed at the time of his death, his handgun was found in his pocket and an AR-style rifle in a bag in his car, suggesting he did not threaten the officers trying to arrest him as official accounts had initially claimed.

Reinoehl was wanted in connection to the fatal shooting of a Trump-supporting right-wing activist named Aaron J. Danielson during Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, Oregon. President Donald Trump ranted on Twitter on the day he was killed, "Why aren't the Portland Police ARRESTING the cold blooded killer" and adding, "Everybody knows who this thug is." Later he hailed the fatal shooting triumphantly, saying in a Fox News interview:

"We sent in the U.S. Marshals for the killer, the man who killed the young man on the street.… Two and a half days went by, and I put out [on Twitter], 'When are you going to go get him?' And the U.S. Marshals went in to get him, and they ended in a gunfight. This guy was a violent criminal, and the U.S. Marshals killed him. And I'll tell you something—that's the way it has to be. There has to be retribution when you have crime like this."

In referring to Reinoehl as a "cold blooded killer" and "violent criminal" even though at the time of his death he was a suspect, Trump made clear that in his America, "law and order" means you are guilty before being proven so and can be targeted for extrajudicial assassination if those in power decide you deserve it. Such shocking words coming from any other head of state in the world would trigger instant condemnations from the U.S. State Department. Speaking to his supporters, Trump boasted of the "great job" that U.S. Marshals did in Portland, adding meaningfully, "you know what I mean."

Attorney General William Barr, who appears to have no understanding of how the nation's system of criminal justice is supposed to work, released a statement praising the federal troops' actions and echoing Trump's words in more official-sounding language. Barr called Reinoehl, "a dangerous fugitive, admitted Antifa member, and suspected murderer," and said before any investigation into the killing was complete that "[w]hen Reinoehl attempted to escape arrest and produced a firearm, he was shot and killed by law enforcement officers." In doing so, Barr too justified this extrajudicial assassination as Trump did and went as far as calling the whole incident, "a significant accomplishment in the ongoing effort to restore law and order to Portland and other cities." He applauded "the fugitive task force team that located Reinoehl and prevented him from escaping justice."

To Barr, the top law enforcement official in the nation, "justice" meant death, rather than arrest followed by charges and a fair trial. To Barr and Trump, the constant drumbeat of "law and order" is essentially a promise to fatally punish those perceived as enemies of the government.

In addition to the Washington Post and the New York Times, several other media outlets have corroborated that Reinoehl's killing appeared unjustified. Rolling Stone characterizes one eyewitness's account of the scene as "a violent ambush" that "resembled an execution." Oregon Public Broadcasting in collaboration with ProPublica spoke to witnesses who said that the officers shot him without warning and "looked less like law enforcement officers than members of a right-wing militia."

In a VICE News interview released just after his death, Reinoehl can be seen claiming that he acted in self-defense in Portland—just as an attorney for Kyle Rittenhouse, the Trump-supporting armed suspect in the Kenosha, Wisconsin, killing of two Black Lives Matter activists, said. With Reinoehl dead at the hands of U.S. Marshals, we will never know the truth.

Instead, Reinoehl now serves as the perfect symbol of the shadowy enemy that Trump rails against. A participant in Black Lives Matter protests, Reinoehl claimed he was "100% ANTIFA all the way." The president's promise to designate "ANTIFA" (which is an ideology, not an organization) as "a Terrorist Organization" has fed into dangerous notions designed to create panic among his base. It has raised the specter of "violent mobs" terrorizing communities that only swift government action of the sort aimed at Reinoehl can quell.

But who are the "violent mobs" really? In Trump's world, armed self-defense is acceptable only for white supremacists who support him, not for the left-wing activists they routinely threaten and hurt. Since protests began earlier this year, according to NPR, "Right-wing extremists are turning cars into weapons, with reports of at least 50 vehicle-ramming incidents" at protests against police brutality. Conservative news outlets including Fox News and the Daily Caller have encouraged such attacks. Even the Department of Homeland Security's latest threat assessment identifies, "racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists—specifically white supremacist extremists," as "the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland" among what the agency designates as "Domestic Violent Extremists" or DVEs.

As if to underscore the threat, more than a dozen white men were just arrested (without being harmed) in connection with a kidnapping plot aimed at Michigan's Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The governor, who is among several women who have faced Trump's online ire, said, "I do believe that there are still serious threats that groups like this group, these domestic terrorists, are finding comfort and support in the rhetoric coming out of Republican leadership in the White House to our state house."

In Trump's America, white nationalist armed vigilante men reign supreme while those of us speaking out against fascism are symbolized by Reinoehl—and like him will be not be considered innocent until proven guilty. We will never know whether or not Reinoehl was guilty of murdering Danielson, as he was not given a chance to stand trial. In Trump's America, there will be no law, only order. To Trump, "[t]here has to be retribution," rather than due process. Among the many issues at stake in the November 3 election, this ought to be a central concern.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Trump intends to cling to power at all costs

From the very beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump was pushing every boundary, violating the Constitution, and breaking rules and norms. But during this past year, he has escalated his attacks on the nation enough that we are at a point where the American president is waging war on the nation—even if many of us don't yet realize it.

Tweeting from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center while battling the coronavirus, Trump posted a message to Twitter recruiting loyal soldiers. His post featured a photo of himself and the words, "Fight for President Trump!" It was linked to a page called "ArmyforTrump.com." Trump's campaign for reelection launched that website in March 2020 and sent out fundraising emails to "PATRIOTS ONLY," telling them they would "make an excellent addition to the Trump Army." Taking the theme of war even further, the campaign promised to send out camouflage hats with Trump's campaign slogan in exchange for donations, saying, "The President wants YOU and every other member of our exclusive Trump Army to have something to identify yourselves with," just as soldiers might sport identifying insignia or uniforms. And, according to the campaign message, Trump's supporters are expected to be "the President's first line of defense when it comes to fighting off the liberal MOB."

If such language were not disturbing enough, it is important to note that Trump has at his beck and call any number of loyal armed right-wing groups ready for actual combat on his behalf. During his first debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Trump hesitated only once during the entire 90 minutes, and that was when moderator Chris Wallace asked him to unequivocally denounce white supremacy. When Wallace named the group Proud Boys, Trump first said they should "stand back," but then simply couldn't resist adding, "and stand by," which by any definition is a signal to be ready in case their help is needed. The fact that Trump felt comfortable and familiar enough with the Proud Boys to issue commands ought to be deeply disturbing considering that the group is comprised of white supremacist, misogynist, and well-armed men.

Even though Trump suddenly remembered a day after the debate that he apparently didn't know who the Proud Boys were, the group immediately announced it would be delighted to serve him, and issued a new logo reflecting their new marching orders from the president. If such a scenario were playing out in another nation, the U.S. State Department and American media outlets would be referring to the Proud Boys as an "armed right-wing paramilitary" group that the nation's leader is calling up in order to threaten a coup.

The day Trump returned to the White House, he remained ill but apparently still wanted to proceed with an in-person debate with Biden scheduled for October 15. When the Commission on Presidential Debates announced the debate would be held virtually due to concerns about the coronavirus, Trump balked, saying in a Fox Business interview, "I'm not going to waste my time on a virtual debate." He accused the commission of "trying to protect Biden." Indeed, in this scenario Trump has presented himself rather like a biological weapon against Biden, and his own staff members and secret service agents are "collateral damage" in the wake of his premature departure from the hospital and return to the White House while he was taking powerful steroids. Trump seems to treat any perceived demurral from Biden as an opportunity to tout his strength against his rival's (legitimate) fear of a deadly disease.

Perhaps lulled by polls from state after state that indicate Biden's popularity rising higher and higher, many Americans might be relying on defeating Trump only via voting. If the nation could rely on a president and a party that play by the rules of a democracy, then this would be sufficient. But to Trump, "The only poll that matters is the poll on Election Day at your polling place."

In repeatedly denouncing poll results as "fake" (here and here, and many other places), and lying repeatedly about nonexistent "voter fraud," he is laying the groundwork among his army of supporters to become motivated by a false belief that their president is being denied a legitimate win and charge to defend him on Election Day.

Taking no chances, Trump is furiously working to ensure through his greatest enabler, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that he has a conservative super-majority on the Supreme Court. Responding to a tweet from one of his supporters about how the next Supreme Court justice will "likely help pick the next president," Trump affirmed the notion with a retweet and delighted in his power, saying the effort to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett would be, "fast and easy!"

Writing on Truthout, law professor Marjorie Cohn accurately referred to Trump's intentions as an "attempted coup." But her candidness is rare, and among those reporting in mainstream media outlets, there is little indication of the seriousness of Trump's war on us. Words like "coup" and "paramilitaries" are reserved for other nations, for so-called failed states. But the time has arrived in the United States when such designations are more apt than ever.

Indeed, the Democrats, who are supposed to be the main bulwark in government against Trump's dictatorial mania, are predictably not treating the election battle as seriously as they ought to. When given the chance to thwart McConnell's timeline to confirm Barrett, senators from the Democratic Party caved and gave him the "unanimous consent" he needed to adjourn the Senate for two weeks ahead of the nomination. There were any number of ways in which Democrats could have stymied McConnell's agenda, but they chose not to. The Democrats appear to not notice or perhaps don't care enough that Trump is readying an illegitimate takeover of government.

How can Americans who are worried about Trump's war fight back? Faced with a nation awash in guns, most of them concentrated in the hands of those who celebrate the Second Amendment, is there a way to win back the nation from a president and his armed paramilitaries? Some on the left have begun to arm themselves as well, but this can only end in more violence. In Lacey, Washington, Michael Reinoehl, who was suspected of killing a Trump supporter whom he said he shot defensively, was approached and immediately killed by federal troops during an arrest in what might be described as an assassination. Trump reveled in the extrajudicial killing (that has gotten far too little attention) by saying, "there has to be retribution."

There are nonviolent ways to battle Trump and his army that are political, legal, and cultural. Sadly, Democratic Party lawmakers do not have the stomach to fight politically. But numerous legal fights to protect voting have borne some fruit, and lawyers at Georgetown Law's Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) have created helpful fact sheets for voters in all 50 states about their rights when faced with armed poll watchers. For the first time, the ACLU has gotten seriously involved in the U.S. presidential election, "because the stakes are incredibly high for civil rights and civil liberties issues in America."

On the cultural front, effective nonviolent means of battle include using humor to deflate the power of groups like the Proud Boys, as activist and actor George Takei has done in encouraging LGBTQ couples to take over their hashtag. And just acknowledging that the nation is in a war being waged from the White House against the rest of us is an important step toward fighting back.

The president is not even attempting to hide his intentions. Media outlets, liberal pundits, and political figures need to broadcast the urgency that we are on the precipice of an insurrection. Far too many Americans who hope to defeat Trump at the polls may be blissfully unaware of just how far he is willing to go to cling to power, having been lulled by years of rhetoric from liberal leaders that simply voting is a good enough substitute for sustained political organizing. It is not, and we may find out on Election Day just how inadequate a defense it is against Trump's power grab.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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