Ernst Doubles Down on Anti-BLM Rhetoric, Calling Protests “an Expression of Hatred Towards the United States”

The senator’s ahistorical criticism of anarchist protests comes amid outrage over the Trump administration’s violent federal crackdown on the Black Lives Matter movement

Joni Ernst meets with troops during a visit to the US embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, in February 2019. Photo: U.S. Embassy Kyiv Ukraine/Flickr

Joni Ernst expanded on her thoughts about the “Ending Taxpayer Funding of Anarchy Act” she introduced last month in an “exclusive” interview published Wednesday by the conservative news site Daily Caller. In doing so, she again conflated anarchist protests on the West Coast with the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole, saying, “What I see is not an effort to talk about racial injustice, I see this as just an expression of hatred towards the United States.”

Ernst’s bill is an embrace of right-wing talking points about anarchism in cities like Seattle and Portland, where protesters have vandalized federal property and established so-called “autonomous zones” by setting up camp in public spaces. Both are common and longstanding protest tactics. Property destruction needs no introduction, but Chicano activist Reies Tijerina, for instance, led an occupation in 1966 of the Echo Amphitheater, a natural rock formation in New Mexico. Tijerina also helped organize the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, a protest against racial and economic injustice that included an occupation of the National Mall in Washington DC lasting for over a month, planned by Martin Luther King Jr. shortly before his assassination.

Nevertheless, Ernst has accused the cities’ mayors of willfully ceding authority to the occupiers and preventing police and emergency medical services from responding to the zones. In her bill, she proposed withholding federal funding for local jurisdictions in the event they don’t swiftly crack down on similar future occupations. (The Seattle occupation was eventually shut down after several weeks.)

On Tuesday, she and 29 other members of Congress — including Texas representative and Steve King ally Louie Gohmert and Tom Cotton, the Arkansas senator who recently caused a staff revolt at The New York Times over his controversial op-ed calling for a military crackdown on protesters — sent a letter to the director of the Office of Management and Budget with language similar to Ernst’s bill. “We write to urge you to exercise your authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are not used to promote anarchy,” it began. “In recent weeks, mobs hijacked peaceful protests and vandalized cities, and State and local officials enabled and encouraged them.”

Meanwhile, camouflaged federal agents have been dispatched to Portland, where they have alarmed Constitutional law experts by detaining protesters on the street and forcing them into unmarked vehicles, breaking a Navy veteran’s hand in an unprovoked assault, shooting another peaceful demonstrator in the head with a rubber bullet, and tear-gassing moms. They’ve done all this without the consent of local authorities, and many protesters have shifted their focus by calling for the feds to leave their city. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who himself was tear-gassed early Thursday morning, previously told Oregon Public Broadcasting that tensions between police and protesters had been cooling off until “the feds stepped in with a very heavy-handed approach, and it blew the lid off the whole thing.”

As employees within the Department of Homeland Security fret over the damage the crackdown is doing to their agency’s reputation, Trump on Wednesday announced plans to expand the federal policing to Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Trump’s actions come with polls showing him trailing far behind Joe Biden — a conservative Democrat and longtime supporter of tough-on-crime measures criticized by activists for the disproportionate harm they’ve caused to Black communities — in his fight for re-election as the president and his allies attempt to exploit the unrest his administration is partly responsible for to cast him as the law-and-order candidate.

“Joe Biden and his team of leftwing radicals are ok with this happening in every city and town across America,” the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted Thursday morning, sharing a video from right-wing journalist Andy Ngô of a fire outside the federal courthouse in Portland. “They refuse to condemn these criminals!”

Ernst introduced her Ending Taxpayer Funding of Anarchy Act as polls showed her locked in a tight re-election battle of her own against Democrat Theresa Greenfield, her approval rating tanking. The senator’s anti-protest rhetoric echoes the talking points employed by Trump, whom Ernst has consistently supported even in the face of obvious wrongdoing.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.