News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.

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East Bay DSA

February 05, 2020

The Alameda County sheriff’s ties to the racist far right

By Craig Johnson

Gregory J. Ahern, the sheriff of Alameda County, recently made international news for his involvement in the Jan. 14 eviction of the Moms4Housing takeover of an abandoned building in Oakland. To evict the two unarmed families, the sheriff sent deputies on a pre-dawn raid decked out in riot gear, armed with automatic rifles, and backed up by a military-style armored vehicle and helicopter air support.

This frightening episode is only the latest in the sordid history of the Sheriff’s Office, and of Ahern in particular. A closer look at the department, its sheriff, and their connections to the history of the right wing and state violence puts the Moms4Housing eviction in perspective. It is well-known that police forces throughout the United States have a history of perpetrating racism and sexist violence, especially to protect property rights. But Ahern, and many other sheriffs and cops like him, belong to an extensive network of violent far-right politicians.

Militarizing the OPD

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office is no stranger to the use of militarized technology. Up until its relocation last year, the largest police training event on Earth was hosted here in Oakland. Dubbed Urban Shield, the program saw militarized police and conventional military forces from Israel to the US to the UK training together, sharing tactics, and demonstrating equipment — including an unmanned drone

Much of this increased militarization took place under the tenure of current Sheriff Ahern, who has been sheriff since 2006 and ran unopposed for that position twice since first being elected. In California, sheriff elections are non-partisan, county-wide elections, and candidates are required by state law to have law enforcement experience. As an elected official, the sheriff occupies a role in between that of a politician and a police officer, requiring us to pay close attention to their political affiliations.

Ahern’s troubling political affiliations

Since Ahern has run unopposed we can’t rely on electoral campaigns or debates to get at Ahern’s political affiliation — but, in his case, a cursory look at his Twitter account will do.

In addition to President Trump, several local newscasters, and other law enforcement entities, Ahern follows Fox News and a number of public figures affiliated with the network, such as Laura Ingram, Martha MacCallum, and Tucker Carlson. He follows Dana Loesch, one-time spokesperson for the NRA and featured speaker in arguably the most fascist ad produced by a mainstream American political organization in recent history. Perhaps most revealingly, he also follows Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump aide and campaign staffer who is most famous for wearing his grandfather’s fascist collaborator medal to Trump’s Inauguration Ball.

Ahern’s interest in the right, and especially its most fascist elements, isn’t unusual for the police. Berkeley police have legally advocated for white supremacists against anti-fascist protesters, despite the fact that the fascists were shown on camera to have been armed with knives. California Highway Patrol officers have collaborated with the Traditionalist Workers Party, a fascist political party that gained traction and publicity during and after Trump’s 2016 campaign.

These connections are not isolated to California, or to the present day. Former Sheriff Joseph Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona (which includes Phoenix) was pardoned by Trump in 2017 after he refused to follow a court order to stop racial profiling. Police support for fascist politics and violence played a major role in the rise of fascism in Italy, and the police have been key players in violent right-wing coups from Chile in the 1970s to Bolivia just last year.

Police violence is right-wing violence

Legal, everyday state violence, like racist profiling, militarized evictions, and police brutality, is right-wing violence. It is connected to the history of fascism and the right not just in kind but by the people who perpetrate it, by the politics it supports, and by the people it targets.

Socialists and progressives can expect these connections to persist. The Moms4Housing eviction will not be the last time that unarmed working-class people seeking a better way of life, or even a way of life at all, will be met by state violence.

Ahern is one among many sheriffs in the US whose politics should alarm anyone concerned about the rise of the far right or state violence. Preventing more violence requires more than removing sheriffs like Ahern from office. It means overhauling our country’s judicial system and law enforcement practices and transforming the state so that it is run by and for the multiracial working class.

We should applaud the organizers and volunteers who stood up to the Alameda sheriff, not to mention the mothers and their children who began the occupation. Socialists and working-class activists should learn from their example of standing up to right-wing state violence, as we continue to build power that can challenge the right and the parts of the state that have always served it.