President Trump’s favorite news channel Fox has been caught out falsifying protests in Seattle, giving the distorted impression that the city is overrun by armed anarchists. That conveniently set Trump off on a rant in which he threatened to send in military forces to “take back” the city from “domestic terrorists”.
Trump and hawkish Republican figures have repeatedly toyed with the idea of “sending the troops in” to quell demonstrations that have engulfed the U.S. over the past month since the horrific killing by police officers of black man George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
That has, in turn, led to an outcry that the president is attempting to violate the country’s laws by threatening to deploy federal troops to do policing work which would normally fall under the authority of the individual states. Trump is also accused of inciting violence by fomenting fears over national security, fears which are exaggerated given the generally peaceful nature of protests against police violence and racism.
In a remarkable sign of the constitutionally explosive situation, the Pentagon’s top military commander General Mark Milley recently expressed regret about Trump’s politicization of the nation’s armed forces. Other former military leaders have weighed in similarly. The tensions reflect tacit concerns that Trump is assuming dictatorial powers. Democrat presidential rival Joe Biden got in on the act by making an extraordinary statement in which he said that he was confident the Pentagon would intervene to evict Trump from the White House, if the incumbent tried to defy the electorate in November. Even the public contemplation of such a scenario seems a bizarre acknowledgement of how far things have gone awry in U.S. politics.
That’s why Fox News’ fakery over the Seattle protests takes on an even more sinister aspect. Last week, the Murdoch-owned, pro-Trump channel published photoshopped images of armed protesters purportedly taking over Seattle. It also attributed scenes of burning buildings from previous unrest as if they were unfolding at the same time as the alleged armed insurrectionists.
Seattle, the most populous city in Washington state on the U.S.’ west coast, has seen a significant popular demonstration against police violence, whereby a downtown area has been declared a “cop-free zone”. The city’s police decided to deescalate confrontation that erupted after the killing of Floyd, by unilaterally withdrawing from the precinct. Citizens have formed a “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” (CHAZ). They are calling for “defunding” of the police budget and more spending on social services. The same demand has been made elsewhere by other cities and states.
What the Seattle protest has dramatically shown is that heavy police power is not required for law and order to prevail. Most reports have characterized the Seattle civilian occupation as largely peaceful, multiracial and a manifestation of people power. Where it will lead to and what it will achieve in terms of policing in the future is anybody’s guess right now.
But already the Seattle citizens have won the argument that U.S. policing is out of control in terms of its militarized operation and use of excessive lethal force, especially against African-Americans and other minorities. Some 1,000 people are shot dead every year in the U.S. by police officers.
The counter-narrative put out by Trump and his ilk is that “defunding” means scrapping police forces altogether and leaving the country at the mercy of criminals and anarchists. This fear-mongering paints an apocalyptic meltdown of American society. It is a favorite trope of elites and fascists whose depiction of society is one teetering on barbarian masses running amok, rather than trusting in the democratic cooperation between people to better organize society.
Fox News was forced into making an apology and retraction for its deliberate falsification over events in Seattle after local paper, The Seattle Times, investigated the images. However, that admission did not stop Trump from telling his millions of followers on Twitter that Seattle was being ransacked by “domestic terrorists”.
Addressing the city mayor and state governor, Trump fumed: “Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will. These ugly Anarchists must be stopped IMMEDIATELY.”
He may not have specified military force, but the implication is unavoidable. After all, Trump has previously threatened to send in combat troops to end other protests which he has also claimed have been orchestrated by “Antifa” (a loose network of anti-fascist activists).
Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan hit back, advising Trump to “go back to your bunker”. She added: “It’s not terrorism. It’s patriotism. We do not need anyone, including the president, to try to sow further divide, further mistrust and misinformation.”
Federal security organizations have found there is negligible involvement of “Antifa” in nationwide protests. The peaceful takeover of Seattle’s Capitol Hill is also not connected to such groups. There have been reports of an armed man appearing to be a protester in the city. Be that as it may, it is nowhere near reflecting the scenario painted by Fox and its most prominent subscriber of an armed insurrection and mob rule.
Irony abounds. Trump has made “fake news” a signature soundbite as if he is the sole victim of it. He also has claimed that his presidency is in danger of falling to a coup plotted by the deep state. But the Seattle episode shows there is no bigger peddler of fake news than Trump and his Fox friends. And if they could get away with it, this White House would be ordering federal troops to round up civilians exercising their democratic right to protest against police violence. Trump is the one sailing close to a fascist coup.