This past weekend we just entered a new dark chapter in American history.
My hope is that these first days of vigilante versus protester is but a brief blip marring our otherwise proud traditions of political disagreement.
The Constitution guarantees the tens of thousands of peaceful marches and protests since our first days as a nation.
Historians chronicle there have been approximately 240 street uprisings so violent to be deemed as “riots” throughout our 237 years of constitutional self-government.
We average about one riot per year. In addition, there have been incidents where organized state militias have fired upon and engaged with federal troops.
Our history of riots, insurrection, and even civil war indicate we are not a peaceful nation.
Our response to riot therefore is a graduated process designed to end discord, not incite further mayhem.
Riots are first addressed by local law enforcement, i.e. the police. Then state enforcement to include the National Guard, i.e. the militia. Finally, upon the request of a governor, the deployment of federal law enforcement agencies. The military is excluded from domestic involvement by the Posse Comitatus Act, except in extreme and exceptional need.
Some erroneously claim the term “militia” is related to the right to bear arms.
Militia is defined “as a body of citizens enrolled for military service, and called out periodically for drill but serving full time only in emergencies.”
The U.S. Constitution defines how the militia is to be created, organized and deployed.
Section 8 ascribes activation of the militia to the legislative branch. “Congress shall have Power …To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;”
Congress also shall … “provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for … the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;”
Section 2 assigns the president as the commander of the militia: “…when called into the actual Service of the United States;”
To summarize, clearly Congress creates, funds and activates the militia. Upon activation, the militia is subject to the president, the commander in chief. This well-thought-out separation of powers is intended to prevent the president, or any military leader, from usurping power or taking independent military action.
Since the death of George Floyd there has been unrest in Portland. For days protests have been occurring in Wisconsin with the shooting of Jacob Blake.
Unwilling to allow local authorities to continue to de-escalate and perhaps more importantly to show his eagerness to use force, President Donald Trump deployed federal agents to various cities. This strategy backfired as it only heightened tension and chaos, and the plan was quietly ended.
Still Trump is intent on finding another way to promote himself as the “law and order” president. The central piece of the new Trump re-election strategy is encouraging his loyalists to take action “to protect us from them.”
This last weekend, Trump supporters organized a caravan of “hundreds of vehicles” and drove into Portland. Also last week, a 17-year-old wielding an assault-styled rifle came in from Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin, as part of a self-described “militia,” and killed two.
All have a right to protest peacefully, pro-Trumpers and BLMers alike. But Trump is positioning these groups against each other in his reckless bid to appear “law and order.”
Trump in recent speeches is labeling protesters as anarchists, rioters, and run by Democrats. While untrue, and attempting to suppress one’s constitutional right to assembly, Trump ignores the injustices that create the need for change and protest.
Some Trump supporters, coordinated by Republican and conservative groups, are taking vigilante action. Calls for bands of armed political activists to counter those protesting racial injustice divide us further. A “vigilante” is defined as any person who takes the law into his or her own hands, as by avenging a crime.”
Even if we could define Trump counter-protesters as “militia,” the president is barred from their activation — only Congress can do so.
Trump, motivated by nothing more than his re-election hopes, is stoking the flames of hatred instead of extinguishing them.
Trump is demonstrating that he sees two Americas, he and his supporters against everyone else. Trump is creating the very chaos he promises to remedy.
The mobilizing of armed vigilantes has begun an undeclared civil war.
Dark days are ahead.
Jonathan Kraut directs a private investigations agency, is the CEO of a private security firm, is the COO of an acting conservatory a published author, and Democratic Party activist. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or of other organizations.