Tom Cotton: Anti-racism protesters 'are little different' from Confederate traitors

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Tom Cotton says 'insurrectionists' in Portland, Oregon, need to be stopped by federal enforcement.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) on Tuesday likened peaceful anti-racism protesters in Portland, Oregon, to Confederate rebels during the Civil War. Just as it was when it sent troops against Confederate soldiers, Cotton said, the federal government is right in using federal law enforcement against protesters.

The Trump administration has sent unidentified federal agents to Portland in response to the mostly peaceful anti-racism protests that have been taking place since the death of George Floyd in May. On Monday, Donald Trump threatened to send troops to other cities as well.

"These insurrectionists in the streets of Portland are little different from the insurrectionists who seceded from the Union in 1861 in South Carolina and tried to take over Fort Sumter," Cotton said during an appearance on Fox News. "And just like President Lincoln wouldn't stand for that, the federal government today cannot stand for the vandalism, the firebombing, or any attacks on federal property. It is right to send federal law enforcement in to defend federal property and federal facilities."

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Cotton has called for federal intervention against protesters before. In June, the New York Times published an op-ed he had written urging that the military be sent to American cities to "restore order" and stop "anarchy." The paper later acknowledged that it had not properly fact-checked the op-ed, and that it "fell short" of standards and "should not have been published."

In 1861, the South Carolina militia attacked the federal fort in Charleston Harbor in support of secession and slavery. Cotton appears to be siding with Abraham Lincoln in standing up for federal intervention. But he has dismissed today's protests over systemic racism and police violence, telling Politico: "I do not think you can paint with a broad brush and say there's systemic racism in the criminal justice system in America."

Cotton's Senate colleague Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon had a different response to the events in Portland, writing in an op-ed published by NBC on Monday, "While Acting Secretary [of Homeland Security Chad] Wolf rants about law and order, most of the incidents of 'violent anarchists' he cites are actually graffiti or low-level vandalism."

Wyden charged that "the federal agents who have been parachuted into Portland are creating more problems, not solving any of them," adding that "crime in Portland has actually been lower than average in recent weeks."

While Cotton now frames Confederate troops as violent insurrectionist traitors, as far back as 2017 he told the Associated Press that he felt local communities should decide whether to remove monuments that had been erected to them.

"I wouldn’t support the kind of midnight teardown of statues or monuments because I don’t think that serves the civic purpose of considering our history and thinking about whatever those monuments stand for," he said. "In general, I think it's best to keep our history in front of us and learn from it so we don't repeat some of the mistakes we have made as individuals or as a people in the past."

Last month, Cotton worked with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on crafting an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to set up a mechanism to rename U.S. military bases currently named after Confederate military leaders. He was eventually reported to have voted "No" during a voice vote on the final modified version, which was adopted.

He also made news for a racist speech on the Senate floor in June opposing statehood for the District of Columbia, noting of two Black mayors of the city, "Would you trust Mayor Bowser to keep Washington safe if she were given the powers of a governor? Would you trust Marion Barry?"

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.