Fascism Alert: DOJ Seeks to Use Coronavirus To Suspend Due Process

A functioning administration would respond to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic with World War II-level initiative.

A functioning administration would promote a unified message of strength, clarity, and resolve.

A functioning administration would have enough dignity and patriotism to refrain from exploiting the moment for political gain.

But we’re not dealing with a functioning administration.

We are living under a regime that would make 1984 author George Orwell shake his head and say, “I warned you.”

One week after Donald Trump was acquitted in his Senate impeachment trial, after reports surfaced Trump would pursue those who testified against him, National Security Council Ukraine expert Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was escorted from the White House.

The same day, Trump fired US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.

After Trump’s Republican operative Roger Stone was sentenced to seven to nine years in prison after being convicted in November of seven counts that include witness tampering and lying to Congress, Attorney General William Barr made the unprecedented move of taking Trump’s “miscarriage of justice” criticism as a cue to overrule career prosecutors to secure Stone a lighter sentence.

This week, Trump conveniently used the coronavirus to shut our Northern border with Canada.

Some will argue that isn’t a big deal, even necessary, to stem the rise tide of infection spread.

But consider Trump also cited the pandemic as a justification for increasing border restrictions, restricting asylum claims, and further cutting taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

Those were merely appetizers.

The same Justice Department (DOJ) that Trump has weaponized as his own political muscle is suggesting using the COVID-19 outbreak to suspend constitutional habeas corpus (due process) rights.

Clandestinely, the DOJ has approached Congress for the ability to request chief judges detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies.

Politico reviewed documents detailing the DOJ’s requests about statutes of limitations, asylum, methods court hearings are conducted, documents seeking authority to extend merger reviews and prosecutions deadlines, the authority to conduct video conference hearings without defendants’ permission, banning people sick with coronavirus from applying for asylum, and halting the statute of limitations during an emergency.

Civil liberties advocates are raising alarms the president is planning to use our crisis to call for controversial policy changes.

Many of those changes are unnecessary, though.

Trump has sweeping emergency authority he could legally employ immediately.

Norman L. Reimer, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers executive director, told Politico‘s Betsy Woodruff Swan:

“You could be arrested and never brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over. I find it absolutely terrifying. Especially in a time of emergency, we should be very careful about granting new powers to the government.”

Tahirih Justice Center CEO, Layli Miller-Munro, added:

“I think it’s a humanitarian tragedy that fails to recognize that vulnerable people from those countries are among the most persecuted and that protecting them is exactly what the refugee convention was designed to do.

Economist reporter John Fasman tweeted:

In February, co-Executive Director, of @IndivisibleTeam, Leah Frances Greenberg, tweeted a timeline of abusive actions Trump took immediately after being acquitted:

“Just to recap: 2/5: Trump is ‘acquitted’

2/6: Trump uses National Prayer Breakfast to promise vengeance

2/7: Trump starts firing witnesses

2/11: Career officials resign in protest as Trump administration intervenes in sentencing to protect Stone.

It’s been less than a week.”

As linguist and activist Noam Chomsky wrote in Internationalism or Extinction:

“As the COVID-19 pandemic turns the global political and economic order on its head, two vastly different futures appear possible. At one end of the spectrum, societies facing the toll of the virus may collapse into authoritarianism. But at the other end of the spectrum, we have the possibility of learning the lessons of this disaster—another colossal market failure enhanced by a neoliberal assault and now Trump’s wrecking ball.”

If Trump gets another term, this is going to be the norm.

We will be in full-on autocracy.

It’s already knocking at a door creaked slightly open.

Every day it blows open just a little wider.

Image credit: researchgroup1.weebly.com

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.