Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

“Law & Order” in Donald Trump’s America

A sorry study in contrasts.
November 2, 2020
“Law & Order” in Donald Trump’s America
The White House is seen behind a line of park police officers wearing riot gear as they push back demonstrators outside of the White House, June 1, 2020 in Washington D.C., during a protest over the death of George Floyd. - Police fired tear gas outside the White House late Sunday as anti-racism protestors again took to the streets to voice fury at police brutality, and major US cities were put under curfew to suppress rioting.With the Trump administration branding instigators of six nights of rioting as domestic terrorists, there were more confrontations between protestors and police and fresh outbreaks of looting. Local US leaders appealed to citizens to give constructive outlet to their rage over the death of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, while night-time curfews were imposed in cities including Washington, Los Angeles and Houston. (Photo by Jose Luis Magana / AFP) (Photo by JOSE LUIS MAGANA/AFP via Getty Images)

In Graham, North Carolina over the weekend, police pepper-sprayed the predominantly black participants of a peaceful “I Am Change” march to the polls in a state that could be the tipping point in determining who controls both the presidency and the Senate.

Three hundred miles north in McLean, Virginia, a group of President Trump’s supporters gathered outside the home of Attorney General Bill Barr to express their displeasure that he had not moved swiftly enough to execute extrajudicial arrests of the president’s political foes, as he has been demanding on the campaign trail.


In New York and New Jersey, Trump supporters formed up caravans that they used to block traffic on the Mario Cuomo Bridge and along the New Jersey Parkway.

In Texas, another caravan of Trump trucks—the president did warn America about outlaw caravans!—attempted to run a Biden campaign bus off of the highway. These very fine people were then cheered by the president, who later, via Twitter, directed the FBI not to investigate them. The local sheriff blamed the Biden campaign for not notifying them that they were passing through, as if we live in the Old West.

Marchers exercising their civil rights are pepper-sprayed. Political opponents of the White House are routinely threatened with jailing by the president and targeted by vigilante mobs of his supporters who largely act with impunity.

Such is the state of LAW & ORDER in America on the eve of the 2020 presidential election.

The scene on Saturday in North Carolina was something that the recently awakened among us thought was a relic of an ugly, but eradicated, past.

A few hundred people marched through the main drag of Graham—a small town in Alamance County off Highway 40 between Winston Salem and Durham. The march was billed as “one part demonstration and one part get-out-the-vote initiative” by Rev. Greg Drumwright of Citadel Church.

The march stopped for speeches in front of the courthouse, the site of a Confederate monument which has been a recent target for protests. Among those slated to speak was the niece of George Floyd.

But the assembly was disrupted by police before she had the chance.

According to the Raleigh News & Observer, after a moment of silence for Floyd, during which the crowd kneeled in remembrance, police told people to clear the road. When the crowd did not do so quickly enough for law enforcement’s liking, the police began a crackdown.

Videos from multiple angles reveal police indiscriminately shooting pepper spray into a crowd that included young children and seniors. You can see one law enforcement official decked out in fatigues and a gas-mask (for a small-town civil rights protest). You can hear people in the assembly shouting “What are you doing,” “This is a peaceful protest,” and “Help me.”

The News & Observer talked to the parents of children aged 3, 5, and 11 who all threw up after being sprayed by the police. One of these kids had been simply “sitting on a brick wall across the street.” The Elon University student newspaper, which had reporters at the rally, said that they were “tear gassed” without warning and witnessed “multiple people falling out.” One participant in the protest said there was about “30 seconds” between the request to clear the area and when the spray was deployed. The mayor of neighboring Burlington, who was attending the protest, said that the warning to disperse came after the pepper spray began. A reporter was arrested on the scene for seemingly no reason beyond not moving as fast as the officer wanted him to.

Kind of makes you wonder what the sheriff would have done to the Trump supporters who illegally shut down major transit arteries in New Jersey and New York. Bet he would have pepper-sprayed them and locked up the whole lot of ’em, right?


So here we have North Carolina law enforcement officials violently and indiscriminately interfering with:

  • American citizens’ right to peaceful assembly
  • American citizens’ right to vote without intimidation
  • The right to a free press

It is the type of thing that the constitutional conservatives who wet their pants anytime a freak with a Pepe the Frog avatar is suspended from Twitter for 24 hours might be concerned about if they had a genuine interest in protecting speech rights.

This was not just a random, rogue cop either.

The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office was almost certainly purposefully targeting the gathering because it was a minority group—and by the by, they have a track record for this sort of thing. In 2012, when the U.S. Department of Justice cared about such matters, it found that the county sheriff’s office had shown a “pattern of discriminatory policing” under Terry Johnson. Johnson was re-elected to his post nonetheless.

Just in case you thought that Sheriff Johnson might have gotten a raw deal from the feds, this is a man who last year said that “criminal immigrants are raping our citizens in many, many ways.” This year he made a public statement about how he was going to look the other way if he saw people violating COVID-19 protocols at the raceway.

Just a weird coincidence that the black civil rights protesters and brown undocumented immigrants get the book thrown at them while the boys down at the track get a friendly warning.

The president of the United States, for his part, is not indifferent to such goings on.

He supports them. Because these are the exact types of actions that he has taken himself and that his henchmen uphold.

Consider again the scene in McLean.

Protesters gathered outside the home of the attorney general to demand the jailing of the president’s political opponents for imaginary crimes. Now freedom of speech and assembly is for the crazies, too. LARPers who fantasize about pedophile rings have rights, just like you and me. But given that the context of the situation you might reasonably think that this was a security concern.

So what happened at the Barr residence?

According to Barr’s spokesperson the attorney general “went outside to greet the crowd, chatted with the folks out there, shook hands and posed for photos.”



Let me get this straight:

The insane people coming to your house to demand you fabricate crimes get the selfie treatment while the people demanding justice for wrongful deaths get tear-gassed.

The Truck Nuts flirting with vehicular manslaughter get cheered by the president, while the black kids marching with their parents to get out the vote are vomiting from pepper spray?

That’s how Trump sees LAW & ORDER.

And if he’s re-elected . . .


Correction – A previous version of this article indicated Winston-Salem is part of North Carolina’s “Research Triangle.” It is not. Chapel Hill (UNC), Raleigh (NC State), and Durham (Duke) make up the triangle. Winston-Salem, the home of Wake Forest University, is 80 miles to the west. 

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.