Trump’s backroom vow to crush pro-Palestinian protesters is a warning

Donald Trump told wealthy donors he’d break the back of the pro-Palestinian movement and set it back nearly three decades, according to a new Washington Post’s report. It's a reminder of the stark choices for president that voters will face this fall.

According to the Post:

Trump reportedly praised the New York Police Department for its controversial crackdown on pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Columbia University and said other cities should follow the NYPD’s lead. (There’s no evidence to suggest that a significant number of international students on visas participated in the pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses — which is not to say there weren’t any.)

“If you get me elected, and you should really be doing this, if you get me re-elected, we’re going to set that movement back 25 or 30 years,” Trump reportedly promised.

Such language is a clear warning to liberal activists — and particularly to anti-Biden voices on the left whose anger over the United States' longstanding unqualified support for Israel has some of them prone to making false equivalencies between Joe Biden and Trump. On the matter of demonstrations and public protests — including demonstrations over Israel’s bombardment of Gaza — the difference between the two men couldn't be clearer.

President Biden has criticized some of the viral scenes of antisemitism and destruction documented at some anti-Israel protests, but he’s been consistent in defending protesters’ right to demonstrate civilly, publicly agreed with some of their views and has said he hears the protesters’ message.

Trump, by contrast, is vowing to quash those protests entirely and to deport “foreign” students who participate in them. He's J. Edgar Hoover meets Vladimir Putin. And let’s be honest about what this crackdown could entail: To achieve his stated goal of setting the "movement back 25 or 30 years," I suspect Trump — were he elected — would rely on a mixture of brute force and technological surveillance. He’s previously vowed to “indemnify” police accused of misconduct, suggesting that he wants to give law enforcement carte blanche to mete out punishment to protesters.

And as I wrote in early May, Trump would have the opportunity to deploy new and existing technologies to surveil protesters:

COINTELPRO is a reference to the “counterintelligence programs” deployed against activist groups, particularly Black and Native American groups, in the 1950s through the early 1970s. And armed with modern technology and shamelessness, a second-term Trump could execute a more souped-up version of that effort.

Take, for example, Arizona: The Phoenix Police Department is one of the deadliest in the country. In recent years, its officers have been exposed for mocking and celebrating violence against protesters and lying about racial justice activists to categorize them as a criminal street gang.

In 2020, Trump’s Justice Department curbed that agency’s use of consent decrees as a means to hold police departments accountable for misconduct. In contrast, Biden’s Justice Department revived consent decrees — and is now trying to negotiate one with the Phoenix PD over its practices, including officers’ treatment of protesters. (As you might imagine, Phoenix police reps aren’t very happy about the idea.)

It’s not far-fetched to think this year’s election could determine whether Phoenix Police face federal accountability for mistreatment of civil rights activists. To take Trump at his word, his second term would encourage law enforcement nationwide to bear down on demonstrators — whatever their (liberal) cause — if he’s elected.

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