The following is an adapted version of Jeremy Scahill’s remarks at “The Anti-Inauguration,” an event in Washington, DC, on January 20. You can watch the event in its entirety here.
On the streets of Washington, DC, on Inauguration Day, even before anyone smashed a car or broke a window, we saw a paramilitarized version of law enforcement on the streets. This is something that we’ve all been groomed to accept as the new reality in this country. We saw it in a very vivid, visceral way in Ferguson, when ordinary people, primarily young African Americans and other people of color, went into the streets to protest the killing of yet another black man in this country and then faced down a militarized police force.
This is not just a coincidence of history or some kind of internal escalation on the part of local law-enforcement agencies around the country. There is an actual program through the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security that sells and provides military gear to state, local, and some other federal law enforcement agencies that was used in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but the military has decided that they don’t need anymore. Because they’re getting upgrades.
So they’re providing their armored vehicles and their tactical gear to local state law enforcement agencies, so that even rank-and-file police officers look like some swelled-up Robocop version of a SWAT team. We see that now in the streets at almost any demonstration, where you have these police forces that are basically stormtroopers (and now with Donald Trump as president, they actually may become literal stormtroopers). I don’t say that jokingly, because one of Donald Trump’s first acts in office was to take down the LGBTQ and climate change sections of President Obama’s website, which says quite a bit about the values that of the man that is running the show now in the United States.
He went to the CIA on Monday. This business of there being a rift between Trump and the CIA, even though Trump compared the CIA to Nazis — there isn’t going to be a rift. There is going to be the same violence in the Trump administration as we saw in the Obama administration, and the Bush administration before it — but with added, very terrifying dimensions.
One of the most shameful legacies that President Obama leaves this country is that he used his legitimacy in the eyes of so many liberals to try to normalize assassination as a central component of US foreign policy.
Assassination has been a central component of US foreign policy since the first native people were massacred in this country. But Mr. Obama — Mr. Nobel Peace Prize-winning, constitutional law scholar — has created a large state of legitimacy for Donald Trump to come in and say, “I’m allowed to assassinate American citizens who haven’t been charged with a crime, even if they’re not posing an imminent threat to the lives of any Americans, and even if they’re not on a declared battlefield”; that drone warfare should be expanded, not limited; that the president does not need to have any effective legal oversight to a secret process of putting people on a kill list, and then run those names all the way through his chain of command, and then signing death warrants.
This amounts to the President of the United States serving as an emperor, where he is the prosecutor, the judge, the jury, and ultimately the executioner by proxy of drones that will then be used to strike and kill people across the globe. We don’t even know how many people they’ve killed through this assassination program that President Obama has expanded since the era of George W. Bush.
It’s a wonderful thing that Chelsea Manning is going to be a free woman in May. But let’s talk real for a moment. She should have had a full pardon. She should have been released yesterday.
She shouldn’t have been tortured for seven years, she shouldn’t have been vilified as a traitor — she should have been celebrated and given the prize that Obama didn’t deserve in Oslo. If there is an American who is deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize it was Chelsea Manning.
I’m sincerely thankful that President Obama commuted her sentence. I don’t think we could have gotten better than that from this particular president, and for that I think there is a limited form of credit that is deserved. Having reported on Wikileaks, having followed and advocated for Chelsea Manning, any path that leads to her freedom is worthy of our celebration, while at the same time realizing that Obama was the one who was president during the duration of her torture and imprisonment.
But at the same time that Obama moved to soon make Chelsea Manning a free woman, he sentenced Leonard Peltier, who has languished in prison for decades, to death by not pardoning or commuting his sentence. I believe that Leonard Peltier is innocent of the crimes that he was convicted of, of killing those two FBI agents, and he should be freed immediately.
I want to talk about the fascism that we are facing now in this country. But I do think it is important to talk about how we got here, with Trump, without ignoring the role that the Democrats played. Because there’s a deep lesson from this era that we are now entering that has to do with the two-party system in this country.
Donald Trump has assembled a cabal of people in his cabinet that are not just the Rex Tillersons of the oil industry who are now directly in charge of so-called US diplomacy. You have a half-literate oil man posing as energy secretary, you have Goldman Sachs taking most of the rest of the posts in that administration. But you also have Betsy DeVos, who was named as the education secretary.
Betsy DeVos is one of the wealthiest people to ever hold a cabinet position in this country. (In fact, the first seventeen people that Trump named were wealthier than 43 percent of the American population’s incomes combined.) Betsy DeVos is a radical privatization activist. She’s a Christian supremacist. She has, through her family foundation, supported gay conversion therapy. The foundation has given money to some of the most hateful LGBTQ groups on this planet, including Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, one of which was deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
But among all of those things, there is an additional layer to her vicious nature: she is the sister of Erik Prince, the founder of the Blackwater Mercenary Company.
While his sister is up for a public nomination in the cabinet of Donald Trump (and I hope the Democrats somehow find even a minuscule amount of spine to stop this), her brother Erik Prince is a secret adviser to Donald Trump, where he’s advocating the return to a Phoenix program-style assassination ring, to be run by the Central Intelligence Agency. For those of you who don’t have grey in your beard or your hair, the Phoenix program in Vietnam was a mass murder operation, coordinated by the CIA. Torture and murder were at the center of the program as part of this secret/not-so-secret US policy.
General Mike Flynn, who is Trump’s National Security Adviser, is a radical Islamaphobe and Christian supremacist who does not have to be confirmed by the Senate. He was General Stanley McCrystal’s top deputy at the Joint Special Operations Command, when they were “Murder Incorporated” under George W. Bush in Iraq and ultimately Afghanistan, then Iraq again, and then Afghanistan again, and on and on until Obama empowered them even more.
General James Mattis said it’s fun to shoot “some people.” And if you actually read the quote, those “some people” he was talking about, were men in Afghanistan whose identities he didn’t know, whose backgrounds he didn’t know. But he said it was fun to shoot them because they probably beat their wives. I don’t believe anyone should lay a hand on their spouse at all, but since when is it US military policy to extrajudicially execute people based on the presumption that they may be beating their spouse? This is the guy that they’ve put in charge of the entire US military.
And by the way, he had to get an exemption from the United States Senate in order to serve as defense secretary, because he was very recently in the military itself. Why does that matter? Because there’s supposed to be some civilian control and oversight of military entities. Trump has a whole circle of generals who represent some of the most right-wing, belligerent, hawkish, torture-loving people within the US national security apparatus.
The forces that we are up against right now, my friends, are fascists, and we need to be clear in defining that.
There is an analysis that is central to understand about segments of the population that voted for Donald Trump, including the people that voted twice for Barack Obama and then voted for Donald Trump. But that is an analysis that can inform our organizing going forward. We are in a red zone right now. We are in an emergency in which immigrants are in the crosshairs, where gay people are in the crosshairs, of an administration that intends to pull the trigger. And anyone who doesn’t make it their business every day of their lives to stand on the front lines, holding that line, defending the most vulnerable in our society, should hold their head in shame, because it is all of our responsibility.
Some people find some hope in Trump’s isolationism. They say, “Oh, well he’s less hawkish than Hillary Clinton would have been.” To be clear: Clinton was an empire politician, a corporate Democrat. But I don’t care if a fascist once in a while says something I agree with: no alliance with fascists.
Nothing in this country will fundamentally change until we get corporations out of our politics, until we stop allowing legalized bribery, and until we shatter the two-party system that gives us a choice between a corporate Democrat and a fascist minus the little mustache.