President Trump has settled on a tactic for his re-election campaign, it seems: stoking violence in American cities. Portland was the first victim, but there will be others. Already forces from Customs and Border Protection — who have become a de facto Trumpist paramilitary squad — are being sent to cities like Albuquerque and Chicago.

The obvious intended purpose is stir up disorder and unrest so that Trump can run as the candidate of "law and order." This is, plainly and simply, a classic tactic of fascism.

It's important to be clear about both the order of events and the scale of what is happening. As of early July, the Black Lives Matter protests in Portland had dwindled to a relative handful of people, some of whom had done some vandalism here and there, mainly in and around the federal courthouse downtown. Locals reported that many Portlanders had begun getting rather tired of the protests, viewing them as more self-indulgent than something with an identifiable goal. But then Trump sent in his paramilitary goons — dressed like Call of Duty cosplayers without identifying markings — who started grabbing people off the street and stuffing them into unmarked vehicles.

The protests were instantly revitalized. The vandalism was, at worst, a minor nuisance, and a great many ordinary Portlanders were outraged at the sight of a paramilitary gang kidnapping people over the objections of the city's mayor, the governor of Oregon, and most of the state's congressional representatives. Thousands of people poured in, including the now-famous moms dressed in yellow. CBP thugs naturally responded with extreme violence — spraying chemical weapons willy-nilly, beating a 53-year-old Navy veteran with a club and breaking his hand in two places, and shooting a man in the head with an "impact weapon" that fractured his skull. One of the moms reports that on July 25, while merely standing near the courthouse, she also was shot in the head with a rubber bullet, opening a deep gash between her eyes that took seven stitches to close.

However, it's also important to note the vast majority of Portland has remained calm and peaceful. The protests have been confined to a few blocks around the federal courthouse. The plain fact is that, contrary to Trump's hysterical lies about "50 days of anarchy," there is no actual mass unrest in the city — and insofar as there has been any unrest at all, CBP paramilitaries are primarily responsible for instigating it, and have committed virtually all of the actual violence. This cannot possibly be an accident.

All fascist movements have relied on political violence — to suppress the left, intimidate moderates, and create an impression of chaotic disorder to justify an extreme response. Adolf Hitler had his Sturmabteilung, and Mussolini had his Squadristi. Hitler portrayed the Weimar Republic as the result of a Marxist revolution that would inevitably have destroyed Germany, and justified his seizure of power as the only thing that could have stopped a Communist coup. "Beginning with pillaging, arson, raids on the railway, assassination attempts, and so on — all these things are morally sanctioned by Communist theory," he said in a speech on the 1933 Enabling Act (formally titled the "Law to Remedy the Distress of People and Reich"), which granted him dictatorial powers. "Only by means of its immediate action was the Government able to ward off a development which would have shaken all of Europe had it proceeded to its disastrous end."

Now, Trump is not identical to either Hitler or Mussolini. It also seems highly likely that this tactic will backfire politically, at least in terms of mass opinion. A recent poll found that among voters who were leaning Trump, 59 percent said the Black Lives Matter protests were either "somewhat" or "completely" right. One reason, the pollster Michiah Prull told Vanity Fair, was that all the violence directed at peaceful protesters shocked the conscience. "He's taking a line of messaging that works for 34 percent of his base in our survey. It's not even that big of a part of his base. He's really alienating folks." Another reason is that Trump's pose makes no sense. He's not some challenger promising to restore order — all this disorder is happening on his watch, and it's not hard to see that he is making it happen on purpose.

But in terms of political function, sending out paramilitary thugs to incite unrest and bludgeon protesters who are simply exercising their constitutional rights is straight out of the fascist playbook. And someone who is already president does not need majority support to seize power — he can simply destabilize the election administration enough to declare the results invalid (by, say, destroying the Post Office), and hope the armed forces don't intervene.

I have no idea whether or not Trump would actually try this, much less if it would work, but it would be foolish to simply assume the rickety American election machinery will turf him out on its own. His propaganda arm is already working itself into a frenzy over the Portland situation. The groundwork has been laid for the classic fascist move of overthrowing the Constitution to forestall a fake left-wing plot: "We had to abolish democracy, otherwise Antifa Joe Biden would have instituted SJW Communism."

I once wondered whether American police would serve as Trump's storm troopers. It seems with the Border Patrol — perhaps the most corrupt and lawless federal law enforcement agency, and that is saying a lot — he has found his brownshirts.