There’s debate among the media about what to call the camouflage-wearing, heavily armed, most not bearing ID, perpetrators of violence against demonstrators in Portland. I say ‘perpetrators’ of violence, because videos of action show those sent to defend Portland’s federal building moving aggressively at large against demonstrators with clubs, teargas, and (so far) non-lethal weapons.

Some media call them ‘troops,’ but that’s a misnomer, because troops mean military, military means under command of one of the armed services: Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, and Coast Guard. So far as anyone on the ground can tell, none of the ‘troops’ are from military units or under military command. They are not ‘troops.’

In my recent Saving Democracy publication on the events in Portland, I called the agents ‘brownshirts.’ It’s a term from Nazi Germany that was applied to the armed wing of the Nazi Party. That party, formed around 1920, committed acts against Jews and Communists into the 1930s. They were called ‘brownshirts,’ because a large quantity of military clothing left over in Germany from World War I, being cheap, fit the limited budget of a paramilitary force.

But ‘brownshirts’ isn’t the title Hitler’s private army started with. They were called ‘stormtroopers.’ English translation of the German Sturmabteilung, abbreviated with the acronym, ‘SA.’ They agitated for the Nazi Party and disrupted meetings and rallies held by opposing political parties. ‘Stormtrooper’ fits best what we’ve seen in Portland.

You might say you’re uncomfortable with my comparing the actions of Donald Trump with those of Hitler. You might say, “Get off it.” I understand, but I’m not going to get off it. I’ll get off it when Mr. Trump stops acting like an authoritarian dictator. For him to enlist agents from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and US Customs Border Protection, overseen by Homeland Security, to act directly under his command, is no different from Hitler directing the activities of the SA. A private armed army outside the control or authority of the regular military. This is not what democracies are about.

What do demonstrators in Portland, Oregon, have to do with immigration control? And since most border patrolling is done at the borders, what are these agents doing hundreds of miles from Canada and Mexico?

Further, why are agents purportedly from the federal government wearing combat uniforms, carrying weapons that can inflict injuries, with only a few wearing identifiable insignia, fewer yet with name tags, and transported in unmarked vehicles? No identity and unmarked vehicles are needed for immigration and border patrol? Why do US stormtroopers have to hide, hide like Gestapo agents in unmarked black cars who rounded up innocent civilians in Nazi Germany?

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