On Wednesday morning, as he often does, President Donald Trump started his day by sharing a series of links and tweets on Twitter — always more obsessed with shaping public perceptions than actually governing.
But one tweet, in particular, caught some observers' eyes and stood out from the rest.
Trump retweeted the following post from the Washington Times:
— WashTimesOpinion (@WashTimesOpEd) July 23, 2020
Unlike much of the propaganda the president usually shares, this piece was sharply critical of his administration. In the op-ed, Andrew Napolitano excoriated the president's federal troops and their treatment of civilians in Portland, Oregon:
Last weekend, with no notice or local consent, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent teams of agents — untrained in crowd control and wearing military fatigues — onto Portland's streets. Their uniforms bore no governmental, administrative or personal names, just the word "Police" on masking tape. They descended upon the city in unmarked SUVs and began grabbing people indiscriminately off the streets, without regard to the person's lawful presence or personal behavior.
According to the account of one victim, he was walking peacefully in the downtown area, observing the chaos, when five masked men in fatigues exited an unmarked SUV, grabbed him and pulled him into the car. They tied his hands with plastic behind his back. They pulled his cap over his face. They kept him for two hours and then released him. They filed no charges against him.
They had no basis for this kidnapping.
It was a kidnapping, not an arrest. An arrest is a lawful restraint by a legitimate government authority pursuant to a warrant issued by a judge specifically naming the person to be arrested, or pursuant to probable cause of crime personally observed by the arresting officers. Neither of these was the case in Portland.
And some victims were even less fortunate than those kidnapped. They were assaulted with pepper spray and hit with nonlethal exploding bullets that stun, hurt and disorient. The bullets can harm the eyes, heart and liver. I saw a video of a young man riding a bicycle away from the chaos. Yet, he was attacked by five of these feds.
Napolitano tied these actions directly to Trump, noting: "On Monday, the DHS acknowledged that these thugs are its police and said their behavior somehow will bring stability to downtown Portland. The phrase that Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf used — mimicking his boss — was 'law and order.'"
He concluded: "This is how totalitarianism begins. The feds claim that federal property needs protection and the folks assigned to do so need help. When help arrives, it does so by surprise, under cover of darkness and shielded by anonymity. Then, the reinforcements beat and arrest and harm protesters because their bosses in Washington do not approve of the protesters' message."
It was a harsh, persuasive diatribe about the present administration. So why did the president share it?
It's possible had no idea what he was doing. He may have misunderstood the headline and not read the article. It's not clear if there's anyone in the White House who would notice or attempt to correct the president for mistakenly sharing a tweet.
But there's another disturbing possibility. The president might have shared the story knowingly, on purpose. It is, after all, still on his Twitter feed at the time of this writing, hours after he first shared it. Perhaps he shared it as a warning or a threat. He likes being seen as a strongman. He may have seen Napolitano's sharp denunciation of his authoritarian tactics and thought: "This is someone who gets me."