America borrowing from China’s playbook in dealing with protesters

By: Rachel Marsden

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Department of Homeland Security was created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks as a daycare center to encourage the FBI and CIA to play nice and share terrorism intelligence with each other instead of hoarding it. But Homeland Security has a new focus these days under President Donald Trump.

Formally, the new role is to guard federal property, such as statues and courthouses, from protesters. In practice, it means grabbing American citizens off the street and shoving them into unmarked vans.

Outfitted in what looks like surplus gear from a Pentagon spending spree, the estimated 2,000 officers from a patchwork of agencies — the Coast Guard, the Federal Protective Service, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Transportation Security Administration (the folks who frisk you at airport security) — are now being dispatched by Attorney General William Barr to protest flashpoints around the country.

It’s not exactly a stretch for Homeland Security, created to combat terrorism, to now be combating protesters. Antifa are the new jihadists.

“The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization,” Trump tweeted on May 31. This administration sees antifa in every protest — so it believes it has cause to treat each protest as a potential terrorist threat.

As someone based in France who has spent a dozen years enjoying cool beverages through the straw of a gas mask while observing protest dynamics, it’s clear that only a small fraction of protest participants are antifa or black bloc anarchist types who are just there to break things. Not that they shouldn’t be dealt with, but it’s far too convenient to tar everyone with the same extremist brush and dismiss the legitimate concerns of protesters.

When protests occur in non-allied countries, the U.S. government rarely sees any paid agitators or terrorists — only victims of a “regime.” Without knowing whether there are paid agitators in protests in Hong Kong, Russia, Iran or Venezuela, America brands all of these protesters as freedom fighters.

While domestic troops from Homeland Security clash with Portland protesters, Oregon’s attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, “filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court accusing the federal agents of engaging in unlawful tactics and seeking a restraining order,” according to the New York Times. Meanwhile, Barr has been criticizing Chinese leadership for trying to get a handle on the unrest in its own country.

After months of Hong Kong protests against the Chinese government, Beijing was fed up with a piece of its territory being dominated by popular revolt. Protesters apparently felt empowered by the “one country, two system” autonomy granted to Hong Kong when it was handed back from the United Kingdom in 1997.

Much like Trump branded antifa a terrorist group — a formality that facilitates investigations into the group’s possible foreign or domestic funding sources — the Chinese government closed the Hong Kong loophole that makes it vulnerable to foreign interference by passing new Hong Kong security laws aimed at punishing crimes of subversion, terrorism, secession and collusion with foreign forces, now punishable with sentences as severe as life in prison.

Beijing is handling domestic unrest in much the same way Barr wants to manage protests in the U.S. states, sending in federal troops in unmarked gear. But when China does it, it’s unacceptable to Barr.

“As its ruthless crackdown of Hong Kong demonstrates once again, China is no closer to democracy today than it was in 1989, when tanks confronted pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square,” Barr said in a speech last week.

If the U.S. is allowed to crack down on terrorism, shouldn’t other nations be able to do the same? Of course, there’s the argument that some countries could use the fight against terrorism as a pretext to label political opponents as terrorists. But isn’t that what’s happening with protesters in the U.S., who are all being tarred with the antifa brush?

The U.S. government is hardy in a position to criticize another country’s exploitation of the war against terrorism, having cited questionable national security threats as a bogus pretext for everything from fruitless foreign invasions to massive global data dragnets — you know, the kind of data collection that Barr has been warning that China might do with Huawei 5G technology.

Barr’s domestic antiterrorism tactics are no different than the Chinese government’s tactics in Hong Kong. The fact that Barr and the Trump administration are even attempting to pass judgment — let alone economic sanctions — is a farce.