DHS Repression Against Protestors Are Similar to Tactics Used by Authoritarian Governments (OPINION)

Jul 31, 2020
3:06 PM

In this July 24, 2020 photo federal agents use crowd control munitions to disperse Black Lives Matter demonstrators during a protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Marcio José Sánchez)

MIAMI — I come from a family that values democracy and the right to vote. In the 1970’s and early 80’s, my family lived through what became known as the dirty war in Argentina, a time when a  military dictatorship used brutal tactics to disappear those who expressed political opinions that challenged the ruling autocracy. 

People would be regularly kidnapped off the streets by unspecified law enforcement and placed in unmarked cars. Some were tortured to extract information while others would be drugged and then thrown from helicopters and military planes, naked and semi-conscious, into the Atlantic Ocean.

Most of those murdered left no trace but some bodies started washing up in the shores of Uruguay, alerting the broader Argentinean populace as to what was really going on with the “disappeared,” the term ascribed to these victims.


We are now living through a truly dangerous moment in American history. Donald Trump has sent federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) into American cities to violently put down protests. DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, has directly defied local and state officials by claiming he does not need their approval to send in his personnel and has attacked the media when they criticize his actions.

In the last few weeks, viral footage has shown what can only be described as urban warfare. Nonlethal munitions, tear gas, and blunt weapons being used to attack civilians in brutal fashion. We have seen images of unspecified federal agents, that were later determined to be part of Customs and Border Protection, putting people in unmarked cars, in complete violation of due process, and driving them around to an undisclosed location without the person even knowing if they have been formally arrested.

In true tyrannical fashion, Trump is using DHS as his own secret police, only accountable to his authority and no one else. It’s worth noting that Chad Wolf and Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, have not been confirmed by the Senate and their authority is likely illegal.

The feds are also arresting protestors on minor offenses, and then telling them they can’t protest anymore as a condition for their release from jail, an obvious and severe violation of our right to free speech and freedom of assembly.

Watching these images, and experiencing some degree of this state sponsored violence in my home city of Miami, where tear gas and munitions were also deployed at protests, I can’t help to think about the grim history of my home country of Argentina.

Despite having lived through political upheaval and even past military coups, most people at the time did not think that the systematic persecution by the state that saw over 30,000 Argentineans disappeared and murdered could happen, until it did.

People might think I’m being alarmist, but I am not.

Anti-war activists have often said that tactics our military uses abroad would be used domestically. Immigration activists have been warning of the excesses of DHS for years, even predating the Trump administration. The Department of Homeland Security was created as a mega-bureaucracy that would coordinate surveillance of the national security apparatus across various agencies. It has been unaccountable while also enjoying almost limitless resources.

It’s only a matter of time a tyrant like Trump would weaponize it and deploy it within our cities.

The slippery slope argument applies here. If Trump and DHS continue to operate unchecked, the state sponsored violence they are currently getting away with will take new forms. We need to stand up and put a stop to it now.


Thomas Kennedy is the State Coordinator for United We Dream and a Communications Fellow for Community Change Action. He was a member of the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign and tweets from @Tomaskenn.