During his years in the federal government, Kyle Murphy was heavily focused on security and foreign affairs: Murphy, now a senior associate for Center for Strategic and International Studies, served with the Defense Intelligence Agency and was a National Security Council director for West Africa. But recently, Murphy resigned from his position as a DIA senior analyst — and he did so to speak out against the injustice that nonviolent George Floyd protesters suffered in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. on June 1.
“I was among the thousands of peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters teargassed in Lafayette Square and nearly knocked to the ground by the downdraft from a military helicopter hovering over Pennsylvania Avenue,” Murphy explains in a piece for Just Security. “In the course of my work, I have watched autocratic leaders around the world employ similar tactics — actions that often precede broader uses of violence against domestic opposition.”
The June 1 events in Lafayette Square, Murphy argues, were not an “anomaly,” but a pattern typical of President Donald Trump’s “authoritarian approach to dissent.”
“I left government service after more than a decade because I lost faith in the courage of the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to refuse unlawful orders from the president,” Murphy notes. “They effectively labeled me and other Americans expressing our views in a peaceful assembly as enemies. They authorized troops to use overwhelming force and set a dangerous precedent by enabling the president to ignore state and local officials’ objections and deploy federal forces in response to popular protests.”
Murphy cites Gambia and Burkina Faso as two examples of African countries where he has seen “authoritarian leaders attempt but ultimately fail to subdue populations deeply committed to advancing democratic values” — and he compares Trump to authoritarians in parts of Africa. The use of force against nonviolent protesters in Lafayette Square on June 1, according to Murphy, underscores “the president’s disdain for democratic values” and “should be put in the context of a continuous slide toward authoritarianism.”
“I see grave similarities between events in our country and the processes by which autocratic leaders have brought their countries to the brink of civil conflict and beyond,” Murphy laments. “Each day, Trump’s approach looks more like the autocrats I warned about as an analyst. I am alarmed by the decision to send federal forces to Portland and additional cities over local objections — as well as the abusive approach of those forces to protesters in operations well beyond their normal jurisdiction.”