President Donald Trump’s plans to place federal agents in cities across the nation in order to quell uprisings responding to the killings of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement may be an attempt to help Trump win reelection, an expert in fascism recently warned.
Trump has used partisan language when discussing his decision to send federal officers to various cities. During an interview on Fox News this past weekend, when discussing the cities he claimed are “a mess,” Trump noted they were run “by liberal Democrats.” He also said if his main challenger for the 2020 presidential race, Democratic presumptive nominee Joe Biden, won, “the whole country would go to hell.”
According to Jason Stanley, a philosophy professor at Yale University and an expert on fascism, Trump’s strategy is focused on the November election.
“He’s trying to use force to create dissension and amp up conflict,” Stanley said during an interview with Business Insider earlier this week. “He’s manufacturing dissent because dissent is what he thrives off of. And that’s where his politics becomes very fascist.”
But there’s another component to Trump’s strategy that’s not as obvious: Placing federal officers into cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and New York may actually result in a lower voter turnout.
Stanley said that it’s possible that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents might be used to suppress voters in these Democratic-leaning cities.
“One thing we need to worry about is CBP and ICE being used to intimidate people at the polls. I’m not predicting it will happen. I’m not saying it will happen. I’m saying that we have to worry about it,” Stanley added.
The presence of officers in these cities alone could be a factor for 2020’s presidential race. “Flooding these cities with federal agents, flooding these cities with law enforcement — when people encounter law enforcement, they’re much less likely to vote; to participate civically,” he said.
Stanley, who also authored a 2018 book titled How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, cited a study during the interview by University of California-Berkeley professor Amy Lerman and Yale professor Vesla Weaver that found probability of voting went down by 8 percent among individuals who were stopped or questioned by police officers. He also cited another study from Northwestern University political scientist Traci Burch that concluded communities with the highest rates of contact from police were 50 percent less likely to vote than other neighborhoods that had lower crime rates.
Having agents from the federal government in these cities, therefore, could lead to a similar outcome, of fewer people voting.
The silver lining, according to Stanley, is that Trump is typically clear about what he does, making it easier to grasp his intentions.
“That’s one nice thing about Trump: he’s transparent,” Stanley said.
A number of governors, mayors and other local officials across the country have spoken out against Trump’s plans to send federal agents to cities across the U.S. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot explained earlier this week that she would not tolerate federal agents acting in ways she felt were illegal.
“We have to remain diligent. And if we see any steps out of line, particularly with [the Department of Homeland Security] or border patrol, we’re not going to hesitate to take the president to court and stop any unconstitutional actions,” she said.
However, later in the week, Lightfoot announced she would accept the presence of federal agents in Chicago under certain conditions. According to reporting from The Chicago Sun-Times, the president and the mayor discussed the issue on Wednesday evening, agreeing that the agents would work in partnership with local law enforcement to address crime, and would not create a situation similar to what’s happened in Portland.
“The Mayor has made clear that if there is any deviation from what has been announced, we will pursue all available legal options to protect Chicagoans,” Lightfoot’s office said in a statement.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner suggested he’d also hold federal agents to account. “Anyone, including federal law enforcement, who unlawfully assaults and kidnaps people will face criminal charges from my office,” he said in a statement.
Organizations are taking action against the White House, too. The Chicago Black Lives Matter chapter filed a lawsuit this week, seeking an injunction against the administration’s attempts to send federal officers to the city, saying they would be “interfering in or otherwise policing lawful and peaceful assemblies and protests.”
“The President has continually spoken out against peaceful protestors, even directing his agents to clear peaceful protestors from public grounds outside of the White House through the use of physical force and chemical weapons,” the lawsuit said.