Leave it to Donald Trump to take the shooting of a four-year-old and exploit it as an opportunity to exercise fascism. 

Let him and Attorney General Bill Barr tell it, their new effort called “Operation Legend” is in honor of LeGend Taliferro, a four-year-old boy shot to death in his sleep last month by a still-unidentified gunman who opened fire on his family’s apartment in Kansas City. This initiative is purportedly designed to help curb the apparent widespread violent acts like that and the general anarchy ravaging all major American cities. Such claims are as dubious as that since-proven false statement from Barr that over 200 arrests in Kansas City alone were made in this effort. 

The aim of “Operation Legend” is to not curb violence, though, but to stoke it

Trump is leaning more into his long standing authoritarian tendencies as he sees his already barely legitimate claim to power tumble in the wake of his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, the economic crisis sparked by the pandemic, and the social justice movement sparked by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin. As reported earlier this summer, although a majority of Americans directly blame Trump for stoking racial tensions, his reelection strategy is to continue to be more racist in the wake of the biggest social justice movement in American history. It’s not working, but instead of him making his professional life easier by shifting his stances, he wants to scare white folks away from caring about racial injustice.

That strategy is sinking so far as well given more protestors have taken to the streets of Portland – including Mayor Ted Wheeler, who was tear-gassed himself – but that has not stopped Trump from his plans to unleash more unmarked federal officers in cities across the country.

Not everyone has taken this unprecedented threat to the autonomy of state and local government lightly. 

In a statement published on Medium, Philadelphia district attorney Larry Kasner wrote: “My dad volunteered and served in World War II to fight fascism, like most of my uncles, so we would not have an American president brutalizing and kidnapping Americans for exercising their constitutional rights and trying to make America a better place, which is what patriots do. Anyone, including federal law enforcement, who unlawfully assaults and kidnaps people will face criminal charges from my office. At trial, they will face a Philadelphia jury. It’s the least we can do to honor those who fought fascism, including those who are fighting it even now.”

Others, like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, initially released similar strong statements in tone, but have since agreed to allow 200 federal agents to be sent to her city under the pretense of working in partnership with Chicago police and Lightfoot’s office under the direction of U.S. Attorney John Lausch.

Lightfoot’s change in stance is disappointing, but not surprising. 

When Trump first promised to send troops to Chicago whether local officials wanted them or not, Lightfoot argued, “We don’t need federal agents without any insignia taking people off the streets and holding them, I think, unlawfully.” Considering Chicago’s own police department reportedly operated what was described by some lawyers as “the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site,” I found that statement curious. Now I just hope it doesn’t mean they’re good on Trump’s authoritative reaches so long as they are kept in the loop.

To even pretend that the presence of Trump’s de facto henchman could be used for legitimate purposes is naive. As is the notion that Trump won’t go right back to overstepping whatever boundaries the city of Chicago tries to establish with the administration. I also have doubts that the distinction between what constitutes “performative authoritarianism” and regular authoritarianism matters to the people who have been reportedly bashed over the head, tear-gassed, and in select cases, hauled off to undisclosed locations. 

But I suppose that’s better than denial of what’s right in front of you.

Much of what Trump has done and potentially still can can be traced to the previous administration dramatically boosting the budget of the Department of Homeland Security. Trump can’t direct the military to do his bidding in similar fashion, but he has other troops at his disposal because this country created a massive deportation force. Through that force, they have brutalized so many people — including those presently locked up in internment camps. A lot of these tactics are familiar, just now being used on white people in the streets of America. 

We should all be concerned by what Trump is doing. Donald Trump lies about a lot of things, but when a conman with a love of mafia states and authoritarian figures begins to play the role, stop convincing yourself it’s only pretend and prepare yourself. You won’t beat a wannabe dictator pussyfooting around what he’s doing and the tools he’s using to do it.