By Susan Grigsby / Daily Kos
In Stephen King’s novel Under the Dome, the used car salesman/second selectman of Chester’s Mill, Maine, a guy called Big Jim Rennie, had to turn to local bullies to form his police force. For those unfamiliar with the novel, the people of Chester’s Mill woke one morning to find themselves under an impermeable dome and cut off from the outside world. Published in 2009, many took the power-hungry blowhard Big Jim to be a stand-in for Dick Cheney. But it doesn’t take much re-focusing to visualize the character as a Donald Trump or perhaps a Steve Bannon, if you can ignore the rampant incompetence and only focus on the takeover.
Donald Trump, however, will not have to rely on local bullies to make up his enforcement unit. He already has at his disposal some of the most troubled law enforcement agencies in the United States, not the least of which is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) which falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a behemoth agency that is supposed to make us think we are safer with it than without it.
The Border Patrol, part of CBP, like the rest of the Department of Homeland Security, faced a rapid expansion during the first decade after the 9/11 attacks which led to agents lacking the necessary screening, training, and restraint to safely and effectively protect our borders. CBP is our largest law enforcement agency and has a history of abuse and illegal behavior.
The list of Border Patrol abuses is long and includes corruption and misconduct, racial profiling and harassment, unreasonable searches and seizures, warrantless stops and invasive questioning at checkpoints and during roving patrols far away from any border, and deporting people to Mexico without their cell phones, IDs, or money.
When I wrote about the Border Patrol in 2015, CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske had only been on the job for a year, but had already started work on reducing the use of force that had gotten completely out of hand, according to the DHS Office of Inspector General’s 2013 report. His “significant policy, procedural, training, and programmatic reforms” led to a 26 percent reduction in the use of force incidents from fiscal year 2014 to 2015. He left the CBP on Jan. 20, 2017. Also leaving the agency was Mark Morgan, who was responsible for overseeing the operations of the Border Patrol and was asked to step down by the new administration.
His replacement, Ronald Vitiello, is strongly backed by the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents the Border Patrol Agents. According to the union’s FAQ, the answer to the question, “Why do we need a union?” includes the following:
However, more alarming is that agents will be used as scapegoats for political correctness.
It was not unusual in the past for Border Patrol management to “throw an agent to the wolves” to appease special interest groups such as the American Friends Service Committee, La Raza, or the California Rural Legal Assistance League. Many of these groups have deceiving names for a reason. All advocate open borders and/or the return of California (known as Aztlan) to Mexico, using whatever means necessary, including filing false allegations of abuse. They regularly make unsubstantiated allegations of civil rights abuses against agents in an attempt to slander and defame the US Border Patrol. This places a very heavy burden on management and administration officials who, at times, forfeit their personal integrity.
Further reading of the union’s website reveals some pretty outrageous and utterly false claims, including this one:
At this moment of all-time low morale due to pay cuts, curtailment of enforcement operations, and a blatant disregard for the rule of law by the Obama administration, it is shameful how CBP will attempt to pacify its employees, who know the failings of this agency the best, with a meaningless and hollow rewards program.
The ACLU reminds us that under President Obama, the force was increased by 35 percent, he doubled down on border enforcement and his administration …
deported more undocumented immigrants than any administration that preceded it, locked up asylum-seeking Central American women and children in dismal and privately run detention centers as a “deterrent,” and rang in the 2016 New Year by announcing a nationwide roundup of undocumented immigrants.
The tone of the union on “political correctness,” etc., is remarkably similar to that of Breitbart and Fox News. That’s not surprising. During the Bush Administration, every television set in every waiting room of the Naval Hospital at the Marine Corps base in Twentynine Palms was turned to Fox News. Every day. In contrast, I visited the hospital a few days after President Obama’s inauguration in 2009 and found a variety of channels on the television sets, from the Travel Channel to CNN and yes, MSNBC. During the Bush administration, the federal institutions were strongly encouraged to tune to Fox News. Rupert Murdoch and Fox News shoulder a large portion of the blame for the destruction of American democracy, which was not designed to survive an ignorant or misinformed citizenry. It certainly cannot survive an armed group of uniformed thugs who believe everything that Fox and Breitbart feed them.
A Canadian photojournalist was attempting to cross the border to cover the Standing Rock protest when he was detained and interrogated for six hours, while CBP officers copied his personal papers, including a hand-written diary. When they asked that he unlock his three mobile phones (he travels internationally as a photojournalist) he refused, stating that he was ethically required to protect his news sources. They returned his phones to him after breaking the tamper resistant seals that protected the SIM cards, leading him to believe that they were also copied. He was denied admission, and while not given a reason, was advised that his refusal to unlock his phones “did not help.”
The current executive order on immigration was used to detain a CNN editor and valid green card holder at the Atlanta airport as he returned from a family visit after working on a story for CNN in northern Iraq.
Officials at Atlanta Hartsfield/Jackson international airport told him he could be refused entry because of the executive order, questioned him on why he was in Iraq and then “told Mr Tawfeeq to wait because they needed to seek ‘an email’ concerning whether he would be allowed into the United States”, according to the lawsuit filed in the northern district of Georgia federal court on Monday.
This occurred after DHS Secretary Kelly made clear that the executive order did not apply to green card holders. But the CBP officers have never displayed much respect for the law that they have sworn to uphold. Drunk on the power of a gun and a badge, poorly trained and ethically challenged, they feel no need for any restraint on their behavior. And as he has repeatedly displayed, popular vote loser Donald Trump shares their attitude. Little wonder their union endorsed him.
The refusal of the CBP officers at airports around the country to accept the judicial rulings that stayed the implementation of the executive order is part and parcel of an agency that is too big and too powerful to function in a democracy.
And if that weren’t problematic enough, The Intercept is now reporting on the FBI’s investigation of the infiltration of local law enforcement agencies by white supremacists. According to Alice Speri’s report on the investigation:
“Federal law enforcement agencies in general — the FBI, the Marshals, the ATF — are aware that extremists have infiltrated state and local law enforcement agencies and that there are people in law enforcement agencies that may be sympathetic to these groups,” said Daryl Johnson, who was the lead researcher on the DHS report. Johnson, who now runs DT Analytics, a consulting firm that analyzes domestic extremism, says the problem has since gotten “a lot more troublesome.”
Johnson singled out the Oath Keepers and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association for their anti-government attitudes and efforts to recruit active as well as retired law enforcement officers. “That’s the biggest issue and it’s greater now than it’s ever been, in my opinion.” Johnson added that Homeland Security has given up tracking right-wing domestic extremists. “It’s only the FBI now,” he said, adding that local police departments don’t seem to be doing anything to address the problem. “There’s not even any training now to make state and local police aware of these groups and how they could infiltrate their ranks.”
It’s troubling that this investigation isn’t focusing on the infiltration of federal law enforcement by these same groups. The investigation only looked at local and state law enforcement agencies, even though the Oath Keepers recruit active duty military and federal law enforcement officers.
On Nov. 5, 2009, James Parker reviewed Stephen King’s novel Under the Dome for the New York Times. Reading it today leaves one amazed at our innocence and naïveté. He concludes with this, which is strangely apropos today:
Big Jim Rennie, with his monster breakfasts and “carnivorously sociable smile,” is swept to power on a wave of homicide and municipal procedure. He snaps necks, and he attends emergency-assessment meetings (echoes here of Donald Antrim’s wildly black 1993 novel “Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World,” which begins with an ex-mayor being drawn and quartered by some inflamed Rotarians). He’s the worm in the brain of democracy: it takes him only four days to undo just about everything. The coalition that forms against him includes a journalist, a librarian, an Iraq veteran, some acned skateboarders and an English professor from Massachusetts who (rather wonderfully) has just edited an issue of Ploughshares. Get ready, libruls, King seems to be saying: If the dome comes down, you’re going to need one another.