Sophie Hayssen, August 15, 2020
At the peak intensity of nationwide protests against police violence, social media was flooded with videos of officers beating and driving cars into protesters. News outlets questioned whether “outside agitators” had infiltrated the protests and circulated images of defaced and looted storefronts, sparking debate about what was deemed “acceptable” protest behavior. In the midst of all of this, there seemed to be one word on many pundits’ and politicians’ lips: anarchy.
President Donald Trump and his administration, in particular, have been preoccupied with labeling protesters as “anarchists.” “These are anarchists. These are not protesters,” Trump said in July amid the ongoing protests in Portland. During a June 29 press conference, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany proclaimed, “Law and order are the building blocks to the American Dream, but if anarchy prevails, this dream comes crumbling down,” before proudly announcing that the administration had arrested “over 100 anarchists for rioting and destruction of federal property.”
The portrayal of anarchists by the president and right-wing media outlets as Molotov cocktail-throwing, black-clad agitators, is not only incorrect, but dangerous. It allows Trump to seize on false narratives like “Portland is burning,” depicting the city as full of violence and engulfed in chaos, giving himself an excuse to send federal agents to use tear gas against peaceful protesters. He then uses these narratives to commend himself as the “law and order” president to boost his reelection chances.