US: Conflicting authorities in conflict with today’s conditions

 Conflicts among the US ruling factions on the use of force sharpen as protests against racism, police brutality, killings and impunity continue | Voice of Revolution

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 22, 2020.

In the United States, the many conflicts between President Trump and the military are increasingly on open display. So too are those between Trump and state-level authorities, like Governors. These public conflicts, especially in relation to authority to use force, are indications of how sharp the conflicts among the ruling factions have become. They are also serving to further undermine the legitimacy of the claims of these authorities, whether military, federal or state, to have and control the monopoly on the use of force in the name of society.

Washington, DC, May 30, 2020.

The military is not supposed to publicly criticize the Commander-in-Chief, as that in itself calls into question his authority. Yet when Trump threatened to call out the military to suppress the broad and continuing resistance to racist police killings and government impunity, not only did retired Generals speak out, but so did active duty soldiers. Indeed, opposition was such that the Military Times, a voice of the military, carried an article specifically giving voice to those opposing such use of the military.

An Army captain openly spoke of refusing orders saying, “I oppose these missions, but if they are to happen, I want to be there to make sure they are done the right way, including providing medical care to those who need it and refusing to carry out unlawful or unethical orders.”

An Army staff sergeant said: “I’m totally against using our active duty military personnel for any type of riot control.” “My main reason is my troops are not trained in crowd control tactics, they are trained to meet and defeat with deadly force any enemy of the U.S. who is attacking us,” he added and fears that such deployments could result in the deaths of demonstrators. In addition, a number of national guard already deployed at the state level did refuse orders to join in repressing demonstrators.

All this open opposition is an indication that Trump is failing to unite the military bureaucracy, a main responsibility of the president in order to preserve the union and prevent conflicts among the contending authorities from breaking out into more open violent civil war. The military bureaucracy is a massive force, part of the state machinery that persists from one president to the next. It has within it its own conflicts, such as those between the Navy, Army, Marines and Air Force as well as their various intelligence forces and contention with the many other intelligence agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA).

In the past, imperialist war has been used by presidents to unite the bureaucracy, as occurred when George Bush invaded Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz, a Defense Department official and architect of the war said it was not for purposes of eliminating weapons of mass deconstruction, as there were none, but rather to unite the military bureaucracy.

But Trump’s efforts to do the same, using Syria as one example, have so far failed. On the contrary, the conflicts have become more open as the existing arrangements of government no longer function. As well, with the broad anger about the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing resistance, the people are increasingly rejecting those in authority as unfit to govern.

Growing Conflicts Between Federal and State Governments

National Guard amass on Seattle street, June 4, 2020.

The problem of preserving the union in the face of these many conflicting authorities within and between the executive and the military, is also showing itself in conflicts between the federal and state governments, including state governors. As resistance spread and persisted across the country demanding justice for George Floyd and all the many other racist police killings, Trump threatened governors and mayors saying, “If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”

Governors immediately spoke out against him. Both California Governor Newsom and New York Governor Cuomo said “no thanks.” Illinois Governor Pritzker said, “I reject the notion that the federal government can send troops into the state of Illinois.” He said Trump’s “rhetoric is inflaming matters,” “it’s making things worse,” and that “we need to call for police reform.” Michigan Governor Whitmer called the president’s remarks “dangerous” and said they should be “gravely concerning to all Americans,” as they would “only lead to more violence and destruction.” Governor of Massachusetts Baker, a Republican, said “At so many times during these past several weeks, when the country needed compassion and leadership the most, it was simply nowhere to be found.” Washington Governor Inslee also rejected Trump’s threat. Oregon Governor Brown said, “You don’t defuse violence by putting soldiers on the streets.” Nevada Governor Sisolak, in rejecting federal intervention said “As the Commander-in-Chief of the Nevada National Guard I can state, categorically, that they have done their duty to protect all Nevadans, and will continue to do so.”

The governors are not rejecting use of force against the people’s just demands; they are asserting their claim to authority in their states and demanding a limit to armed federal intervention. In fact, most had already acted to violently repress the resistance by calling out the National Guard at their disposal. California and Illinois were among the first to do so, as did Washington, Minnesota, and more than 30 states. Many were armed with automatic weapons, others were not. New York’s Cuomo said he had 13,000 troops on standby.

Forces at the disposal of Governors include thousands of National Guard troops, as well as state troopers. In coordination with mayors, they dispose of huge militarized police forces. Large cities like New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles have virtually their own armies, with command centres, tanks, helicopters, grenade launchers, chemical weapons such as tear gas, heavily armed SWAT teams, special Emergency Response Teams for protests, and more. Trump’s threat created a situation where the state National Guard and police would come in direct conflict with the federally mobilized troops – something the rulers want to avoid and likely why Trump’s threat remained just that. However the growing disunity and threat to the union these conflicts represent remains.

States like California and New York can easily become their own countries and indeed Cuomo regularly promotes New York as the Empire State. Regions like the Midwest and Northeast could too. As well, the claims by governors about reform, that “rhetoric” was inflaming matters, that federal troops would mean “more violence and destruction,” while state and local forces somehow would not, certainly rang hollow given the repeated police violence in city after city, large and small. While these various authorities are in conflict with each other, they are all becoming more antagonistic than ever to the people, despite trying to appear to be on their side.

The existing authorities are unable to solve any problem and threaten more violence and destruction, both at home and abroad. Authority is in conflict with Conditions and blocking the advance of society, as evidenced in the violent repression of the broad resistance movement. This movement is finding a way forward and taking initiative to develop fundamental change, a democracy of the people’s own making that empowers them to govern and decide.

For Your Information

Extracts of Military Times Article

Though defence officials have clarified that any troops will be on site as a show of presence and deterrence, rather than making arrests or deploying weapons against protesters, President Donald Trump’s comments have raised alarms that the White House is politicizing the military by threatening to deploy service members to break up peaceful protests against what prosecutors have alleged was the murder of George Floyd on May 25 by a Minneapolis police officer.

“I am mobilizing all federal and local resources, civilian and military, to protect the rights of law abiding Americans,” Trump said June 1 at the White House, citing the Insurrection Act of 1807. “Today I have strongly recommended to every governor to deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets. Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming presence until the violence is quelled.”

To clarify, Trump had not mobilized federal and local resources nor invoked the Insurrection Act, as police forces and National Guard troops are operating under the orders of their mayors and governors.

The mission is not unlike the one some active duty and National Guard troops have been doing along the U.S.-Mexico border for nearly two years, assisting Customs and Border Patrol with surveillance and security, but not physically detaining anyone.

But the optics of the situation have quickly turned sour for many current service members, who shared their perspectives with Military Times. Of 33 responses from active-duty and reserve component troops reviewed before publication, 30 were opposed to the use of troops to respond to protests.

“Using the military to put down protests and supplement the botched efforts of the police to control these protests, particularly through unlawful uses of force, will only further inflame the protests,” a National Guard noncommissioned officer said. “This is escalation, not de-escalation. Embroiling the military due to the inaction and failings of the police only serves to conflate the two, and would put both military members and civilians at greater risk. Cracking down with authoritarianism does nothing but further politicize the military and erode the trust the public has in us. There is no winning in this scenario.” […]

Aside from the message deploying active-duty troops might send, others questioned whether they are necessary.

“I don’t think active-duty military deployments are necessary, especially in DC,” an active-duty Army captain wrote. “I believe the president is deploying the military for political reasons and our reputation will be irreparably damaged by the association.”

Specifically, Defense Secretary Mark Esper authorized an 82nd Airborne Division infantry battalion, the Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based 16th Military Police Brigade’s headquarters and the 91st Military Police Battalion from Fort Drum, New York, to mobilize to the DC area.

But on June 3 he clarified in a Pentagon briefing that he does not believe it’s necessary to employ them in a law enforcement role.

“The option to use active duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire of situations,” he said. “We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.” […]

At the same time, those active-duty forces are awaiting instructions at bases in the DC area, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said June 2. Some service members are wrestling with the idea of doing their jobs, the Army captain said, if these are their orders.

“I oppose these missions, but if they are to happen, I want to be there to make sure they are done the right way, including providing medical care to those who need it and refusing to carry out unlawful or unethical orders,” he said.

The deployments could also affect the public’s view of the National Guard, he added, after all of the good will built up over the COVID-19 pandemic response, which at its height saw more than 45,000 guardsmen running testing sites, delivering food and otherwise acting in a humanitarian capacity.

“This also stands in sharp contrast to the president’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, in which he eschewed the federal government taking an active role and pressed upon those same state governors to do things on their own because it wasn’t the federal government’s job,” an active duty Navy chief wrote.

That kind of narrative could also trickle down in other ways, including the Guard’s recruiting efforts. “She’s worried that all the efforts they’ve made to make the guard diverse and inclusive are being eroded by asking soldiers to stand by cops,” one reader wrote of his wife, a Guard recruiter in the South. “She has recruiting meetings with two people today. Both young black men. She has no idea what to tell them.”

And as far as active-duty troops, some expressed concern about how they would handle themselves in a crowd control scenario.

“I’m totally against using our active duty military personnel for any type of riot control,” an Army staff sergeant wrote. “My main reason is my troops are not trained in crowd control tactics, they are trained to meet and defeat with deadly force any enemy of the U.S. who is attacking us.”

While the mobilized military police will be tasked with providing security, he had questions as to whether their combat training would sway their actions.

“My troops do not have the mind set to just allow someone to throw things at them, or assault them without them striking back using a medium of force that would be considered appropriate for that type of situation, especially if they had live rounds in their M-4s,” he added. “Sorry to say but there would be some dead rioters/insurgents.”

Beyond the movement of troops, some readers commented on the actions of the military’s most senior leaders in the face of the White House’s response to protests and riots.

“It’s one thing to remain silent. It’s a completely different situation when our Pentagon leadership takes part in the politicization of the military,” an active-duty Navy judge advocate lieutenant wrote. “The teargassing of peaceful protesters on live TV and then the photo op by Trump [June 1] was a disgrace. The use of helicopters in Washington, DC, to intimidate protesters is shameful. [Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark] Milley’s galavanting around DC is sad. Leaders need to be leaders. Take a stand. Resign. Do not let the military fall to Trump’s demagoguery….”

[During] a White House call with governors Defense Secretary Esper compared U.S. cities to war zones.

“The statement by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper that we should ‘dominate the battlespace’ in American cities was appalling,” a DC area-based Army reserve officer wrote. “Farragut Square is not Fallujah. The people peacefully protesting there yesterday were not combatants; they are our fellow Americans.”

Voice of Revolution is a publication of the U.S. Marxist-Leninist Organization.

(Photos: R. Pineda, A. Suttner, D. Geilgey)

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