An Open Letter to A Dear Friend: on Donald Trump and the Police

Dear J,

I don’t think I could ever repay you for all of the kind things you’ve done for me throughout my life. When I needed a father figure, you treated me like a son. When things got tough, you stood by me and gave me all the support I needed. You taught me how to pay it forward, to be generous and kind without expecting anything in return. You taught me that when you’re in a position of strength, you do what you can to help others. You taught me that when you’re feeling weak, it’s okay to ask others for help. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without you; I still depend on you for aid and guidance.

That being said, I am frightened for the future of our country. Over the past four years, I have seen and experienced things that I never could have imagined I would witness in my lifetime. You must feel the same. With the harsh rhetoric and even some of the violence associated with the recent protests against police brutality, I imagine you must be very worried about the well-being of the officers in your family. You and your wife both support Donald Trump, not because of the vile rhetoric he spews, but because you believe he is the only candidate willing to do what is necessary to keep the people in this country safe from political unrest and violence.

I am not going to mince words: I do not believe that Donald Trump intends to keep your family safe. In fact, he has consistently pursued a course of action that must lead to further instability and put officer lives at risk. A prominent example of this is his infamous photo op which he took at St. John’s Episcopal Church during a protest in Washington, D.C. Peaceful protestors were pushed back with less than lethal projectiles and chemical agents, some of which were used against priests and a reverend who were at the church. The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington accused Trump of attempting to inflame violence, and the Rector Rev. Rob Fisher came out in support of the protestors while criticizing the president for using the church as a “prop”. The Arlington County Police Department withdrew their officers in what they called an “extraordinary action… under a longstanding Mutual Aid agreement with the United States Park Police”. They called the event “a forceful action to remove peaceful protesters… for the sake of a photoshoot for the President”.

The response from former and current military was even more forceful. Retired four-star Marine Corps general John Allen warned that the event “may well signal the beginning of the end of the American experiment”. James Mattis, Trump’s former defense secretary who had previously written about the importance of former military leaders staying apolitical, broke silence for the first time since his resignation to rebuke Trump for deliberately working to divide the people of the United States and violate their Constitutional rights. 89 former defense officials signed an op-ed accusing Trump of betraying his oath of office. Retired U.S. Navy admiral and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen expressed concern over Trump’s “disdain for the rights of peaceful protest” as well as the potential risk of politicizing the armed forces. A string of active duty generals and admirals used the event as an opportunity to come out in open support of the protests and Black Lives Matter movement, including Trump’s current secretary of defense. This does not begin to scratch the surface of the backlash Trump has received for this action. To my knowledge, nothing remotely similar to this has ever occurred in the history of the United States.

The urban (terrorist) approach is an approach in which insurgents attack government and symbolic targets (for example an important religious building) to cause government forces to overreact against the population. The insurgents want the government’s repressive measures to enrage the people so that they rise up and overthrow the government. Although this type of method may develop popular support against a government that is particularly brutal or corrupt, it may only result in shallow support for the insurgency. The population may only see the insurgency positively because of the brutal response, not because they identify with the insurgency.

As outlined in Army Field Manual 3–24, iron fist tactics play right into the hands of violent extremists. Decades worth of studies demonstrate that aggressive responses from the police tend to escalate violence, intensify conflict, and even start riots. Trump’s use of federal law enforcement has served to escalate conflict in major US cities. This July in Portland, two veterans went to a protest in response to reports of federal officers dressed in tactical gear brandishing rifles and emerging from unmarked vehicles to capture protestors. When these veterans approached officers to ask them if they understood their oath to defend the constitution, one was sprayed in the face with a chemical irritant and another had his hand broken by a baton. The veteran who had been sprayed in the face took three days to recover, and as a former Marine Corps officer who had been gassed multiple times before, he claimed that he had never felt worse before being sprayed that night. He claims that the officers are antagonizing and “creating the situation that they are saying they have to be there for”.

Accelerationist” ideologues actively work to incite violence and escalate civil unrest in an intentional effort to destabilize the country. Donald Trump has overwhelmingly blamed left-wing movements for attempting to destabilize the United States. However, The Anti-Defamation League reports that 81% of extremist murders in 2019 were perpetrated by white supremacists, whereas far-right extremists in general have been responsible for 76% of the extremism-related murders over the past decade. White supremacists fantasize about waging war against the government of the United States in order to install a fascist state. For example, The Turner Diaries portrays a fictional revolution in which acts of terrorism instigate a crackdown by the government, leading to an escalation in violence culminating in nuclear war and genocide. This book inspired Timothy McVeigh to kill 168 people in Oklahoma, Anders Breivik to kill 76 in Norway, and David Lane to form a terrorist group sharing the same name as the elite group of insurgents in the novel. David Lane is most famous for writing the infamous 14-word “white genocide” manifesto, which in turn inspired the Christchurch shooter to kill 51 Muslims at prayer in New Zealand.

Trump downplayed the significance of the Christchurch incident, whose perpetrator praised Trump as a “a symbol of renewed white identity”. In 2017, after a vehicular homicide at the infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Trump failed to single out the act of white supremacist terrorism and reportedly only condemned white supremacy reluctantly in response to bipartisan criticism and urging from his advisers. The founder of neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer applauded Trump’s initial comments on the event, while white nationalist Richard Spencer claimed “only a dumb person” would consider the second statement a serious condemnation of his movement. Richard Spencer is an openly anti-semitic white nationalist who was caught frothing at the mouth immediately after the Unite the Right Rally, which he helped organize, yelling racial slurs and talking about how “his ancestors” enslaved black people and Jews. Richard Spencer initially reacted to Trump’s victory with enthusiasm and comparisons to Adolf Hitler, although more recently he has criticized Trump for what he considers empty pandering towards racists without substantial action to back it up.

I don’t think that Spencer is that far off. I do not believe that Trump wants to establish a whites-only state, and I do not think that he believes in Nazi ideology. However, he has been all too willing to appeal to these elements to achieve his goals. On June 17, the Trump campaign ran 88 ads asking supporters to sign a petition to designate Antifa as a terrorist organization, a move which policy experts believe could fuel extremist violence and undermine the legal framework for counterterrorism investigations. The ad displays an inverted red triangle, which is the symbol Nazis used to label political prisoners in the concentration camps. His campaign also has an odd tendency to reference the numbers 14 (of the 14 words mentioned earlier) and 88 (‘H’ is the 8th letter of the alphabet, so 88 is code for “Heil Hitler”). In some cases it may be an issue of overactive imaginations and people with too much time on their hands, but the strategy of using numerology as a method to conceal messages from those who wish to do your movement harm may be familiar to you as a Christian. Further, it fits with his history of retweeting white supremacist memes and slogans posted by his supporters.

Most disconcerting of all is Trump’s senior advisor for policy, Stephen Miller. Miller has been with Trump since the beginning, writing his inaugural address and pushing hard for policies that would separate undocumented children from their families. He has a well-documented history of associating with white supremacists like Richard Spencer and obsessing over issues of race from a very young age. When he worked at Breitbart, he would share white supremacist websites with colleagues and made references to racist novels like The Camp of the Saints. This novel labels immigration from Asia and Africa as an “invasion” that will eventually lead to the genocide of the “white race” and all of European culture. Trump has mirrored this invasion narrative when talking about immigration from Mexico. This is a narrative in which the Christian virtues of compassion, charity, and universal love for all humanity are painted as villainous. The eponymous saints are villains in the novel, and end up murdered either by the refugee “hordes of flesh” or by the protagonists themselves. This is not a world where the meek or the peacemakers or the merciful or the righteous are blessed. This is a movement based on the principles of social darwinism, eugenics, and fascism. These principles are anathema to the classical liberalism the United States is built on, and they ultimately rely on the downfall of our great republic to succeed.

It may sound strange, but it gives me hope that people like yourself constitute the voter base for Trump. It means that our country is still full of good people, despite all of the negativity being spread by the media and politicians. I can’t tell you how you should vote or what news sources to believe or even what the right way forward is. I just want you to understand why people like myself and my friends are so distraught at the idea of another four years of this presidency. I feel a lot of optimism about humanity, and I think if we work together we can achieve a future where freedom, equality, and brotherhood prevail. In order to protect this future, we need to deal with threats to our democracy and rectify our institutions.

There are solutions that we know through research will make our communities safer and improve relationships between marginalized communities and the police. A better relationship with the community means that police are safer and more effective when it comes to investigating serious crimes. The Law Enforcement Action Partnership, a nonprofit group built by former and current law enforcement professionals, released a list of recommendations on June 3rd designed to make law enforcement more effective. They advocate for transparency, accountability, de-militarization, a broader role for social services, specialized training, and increased support for the mental health of officers. These are all initiatives designed to bolster both officers and the communities they work in.

I truly appreciate you reading this letter. It means a lot to me. I dream of a world where all people can feel safe and free, a world where everyone helps each other. I believe that every time we engage in our communities and break down barriers between people, we bring that dream one step closer to reality. You know that if you or your family ever need help with anything, I’ll be there. That’s all we can really do in times like these. Help each other. I know you have helped me a lot, and it’s built who I am today in a major way. We will keep in touch, and I look forward to hearing your response.

Thank you so much for everything.

Sincerely, Sam

Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.

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