Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) on Tuesday compared anti-racism protesters in Portland to—of all people—Confederate “insurrectionists,” likening the Trump administration’s use of federal agents to Abraham Lincoln defending Fort Sumter.
With unidentified Homeland Security agents roaming the streets of Portland in unmarked vehicles and apprehending protesters, both President Donald Trump and acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf have defended the actions as necessary to protect federal property. And on Monday, the president threatened to send more feds to other cities.
“New York and Chicago and Philadelphia, Detroit, and Baltimore and all of these—Oakland is a mess—we are not going to let this happen in the country, all run by liberal Democrats,” Trump said. “We’re going to have more federal law enforcement, that I can tell you.”
Cotton, who sparked controversy last month by advocating in a New York Times op-ed for military intervention in response to Black Lives Matter protests, appeared on Trump’s favorite morning show Fox & Friends to offer a full-throated defense of Trump’s latest “law and order” strategy.
“The federal government cannot allow anarchists and insurrectionists to destroy federal courthouses, federal buildings or other federal property,” he bellowed. “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.
“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,” Cotton continued. “It is right to send federal law enforcement in to defend federal property and federal facilities.”
The Arkansas senator had previously made a similar comparison, claiming on Monday that the presence of undercover federal agents to confront mostly peaceful protesters does not constitute a violation of states’ rights.
“It's no more a violation of the prerogatives of Oregon as a state than trying to defend Fort Sumter was from insurrectionists in 1861,” he said in a conversation with the Manhattan Institute’s Reihan Salam.
Cotton likening anti-racist demonstrators to the Confederacy drew some immediate online mockery, especially considering the conservative lawmaker’s opposition to renaming military bases named after Confederate generals.
“The Confederate general and insurrectionist who launched the attack on Fort Sumter, P.G.T. Beauregard, has a military camp named after him,” Washington Post political reporter Aaron Blake wrote on Twitter. “Cotton has opposed renaming such installations.”
“BREAKING: Sen. Tom Cotton advocates building statues, renaming military bases to honor Portland protesters,” Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman joked.
The federal presence in Portland, meanwhile, has been met with even more protesters, with the demonstrations growing in size and including Wall of Moms, a parents group. Early Tuesday morning, a crowd of thousands participated in protests at the federal courthouse, clashing with federal agents who had holed up inside the building.