The Colorado leaders who want Denver to look like Portland

Elected state officials have expressed approval of unconstitutional activities

Colorado House Minority Leader Patrick Neville speaks on the floor of the state House of Representatives on June 11, 2020. (Andy Bosselman for Colorado Newsline)

The deployment in Portland, Ore., of federal law enforcement agents, who eschew insignia and have been captured on video making what appear to be unaccountable arrests of civilians, is a chilling escalation of the Trump administration’s response to police-reform demonstrations in American cities.

President Donald Trump himself has said federal law enforcement is needed to counter violence in cities run by Democrats, and he has signaled that this dystopian approach, to what are constitutionally-protected protests by a free people, could appear in New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland. On Wednesday, he announced he was sending federal agents to Chicago and Albuquerque.

The federal government so far has spared Colorado a paramilitary invasion. But there is every reason to believe a city like Denver is on the short list of targets, given that Colorado is a blue state and the site of civil unrest. Something just as alarming, however, has already occurred: Several of Colorado’s own elected leaders have expressed approval of dictator tactics.

“Portland is out of control. If local authorities won’t protect federal property, then federal authorities must.” That wasn’t the crazed, anti-democratic declaration of the sort we’ve come to expect from Attorney General William Barr and other Trump apologists in Washington. That was a Colorado congressman, Doug Lamborn, on Twitter. “(Trump) is correct, we need to restore law and order NOW,” Lamborn wrote.

He wasn’t the only member of Colorado’s congressional delegation to align himself with Trump’s strongman tendencies. Lamborn’s tweet earned approval from U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, who happens to be chairman of the entire Colorado GOP.

Republican Rep. Patrick Neville, the Colorado House minority leader, participated in a pro-police rally on Sunday in downtown Denver that was interrupted by police-reform activists. A clash reportedly resulted in scattered instances of violence, and Fox’s Tucker Carlson invited Neville to talk about the episode on Carlson’s show.

“We’ve had a serious problem with complete lawlessness here in Denver,” Neville said, adding a short time later, when asked by Carlson why political leaders in Colorado allowed Neville to be “attacked,” “They’re doing nothing about it whatsoever, and so I think we really need to appeal to the president.”

Then there is state Rep. Dave Williams, of Colorado Springs, who on Thursday sent a letter to Trump that makes an outright plea for the president to expand the federal presence in Colorado — not just to “protect law-abiding Colorado citizens abandoned by Governor Jared Polis” but to stop the duly-elected chief executive of the state “from issuing unconstitutional mandates” — related to what Williams xenophobically calls the “Chinese coronavirus” — “that jeopardize Coloradan’s (sic) freedoms and way of life.”

Williams is all but calling for an armed federal assumption of state powers. It doesn’t matter on what side your politics fall. Everyone, left and right, should agree that resolution of even the most passionate debates over the administration of state government should remain to state authorities without heavy-handed or violent intervention from Washington.

Since about early last week, federal law enforcement officers, reportedly in unmarked vehicles, without badges or other standard identification, and without probable cause, have gone around detaining protesters in Portland, activities the Oregon attorney general’s office found so egregious that it filed a federal lawsuit to stop them. Trump on Wednesday announced an expansion of the federal response to what he says is an outbreak of “bloodshed” in American cities. The initiative, called, “Operation LeGend,” is said to be distinct from that in Portland. But, since it involves “a surge of federal law enforcement into American communities plagued by violent crime,” especially in places governed by Democrats, it promises the same unconstitutional, fascist results.

Even if Colorado is spared a Portland-like federal assault, we now know who among us approves of such repression. The operation is Trump’s. But while legal culpability will fall on the president, if federal thugs show up in Denver and perpetrate extrajudicial arrests the moral blame will rest with those elected leaders in Colorado who invited them.