This week, our guest is the legendary scholar Theda Skocpol, the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University. We were lucky enough to sit down with her and Caroline Tervo, both co-editors of the new book Upending American Politics: Polarizing Parties, Ideological Elites, and Citizen Activists from the Tea Party to the Anti-Trump Resistance.
Listen to Mila’s interview with them here:
We had a great discussion about how organized movements influence American politics, and why they’re so important on a national level. We looked at groups on both the Left and Right and discussed how they learn from one another to get their policy priorities codified into law.
During our conversation, Skocpol discussed how Donald Trump used endorsements from certain groups to gain an electoral edge in crucial states during the 2016 election and said something that surprised us.
“I think our understanding of Donald Trump’s 2016 victory is often a little bit off,” Skocpol told Mila. “We all know about his mass rallies, but occasionally he actually went and talked to a group of people that existed all the time. The groups were usually groups of evangelical Christian right ministers…or they were meetings of the Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed Donald Trump, even though it hadn’t endorsed Mitt Romney four years before because Donald Trump spoke up for white police in their clashes with the Black Lives Matter movement.”
According to Skocpol, The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) endorsed Trump because of his consistent defense of police against protesters. That endorsement was crucial to his campaign’s eventual success, she said.
“One of our contributors looked statistically at where they were and where the memberships were and found that the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police probably generated extra votes above and beyond what you would expect for most Republicans,” Skocpol said during our interview.
So, the FOP supported Trump, and provided vital votes above and beyond regular Republican voting numbers—but who are they, and why do they hold so much power in America?
What is the Fraternal Order of Police?
For starters,the FOP is often labeled a union by the media, but that’s not exactly true. Founded in Pittsburgh in 1915, the FOP was explicitly anti-union, and its founders expressly forbade strikes of any kind. They declined offers of allyship from other unions, citing the need to keep the peace should these unions decide to strike. In many parts of the country, police officers were used to break up strikes at the behest of corporations and kingpins, and the FOP wanted to make sure they could continue this practice.
Since its inception, the FOP routinely acts to protect police at the cost of civilian—and predominantly minority—well-being. In the 1960s, the FOP mustered opposition to proposed Citizen Review Boards, an essential accountability tool pushed by the ACLU and others. Local FOP chapters still lobby against outside oversight of police forces, as evidenced by Tulsa FOP chief Jerad Lindsey’s crowing remarks after his organization defeated a review board in the city.
“You have got to build those relationships before the fight starts, you have got to cultivate those things with your politicians, you have got to cultivate them with your citizens,” Lindsey said, “so that when you need to turn your organization into a war wagon and weaponize it and go to war, you can.”
Recently, many FOP chapters decried the inclusion of body cameras, another way to keep police accountable for their actions. The Chicago FOP called body cameras—a tool many officers welcome— “stressful and oppressive.”
The most worrying aspect of the FOP and its many chapters hinge on their treatment of minorities, especially African Americans. In the 1930s, FOP National President Henry Squires argued for the sterilization of repeat offenders. The Black Panthers became a source of ire for FOP brass, with one Cleveland president calling for them to be “wiped out” in 1970. In 1968, FOP National President John Herrington endorsed proud segregationist George Wallace for US President.
These racist sentiments are still a large part of the FOP. In 2017 Philadelphia FOP President John McNesby decried BLM protesters as “a pack of rabid animals.” McNesby also described a Philadelphia officer’s Nazi tattoo as “not a big deal.” Even more recently, this same FOP chapter equated 2-time Superbowl champion Malcolm Jenkins with a drug dealer after he penned an op-ed critical of the city’s current police commissioner.
The Miami FOP boycotted a 2016 Beyonce show after the performer wore a costume similar to the Black Panthers’ uniform during a Superbowl half-time show. The president of this chapter tweeted “act like a thug, you’ll get treated like a thug” in the aftermath of 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s murder by Cleveland police officers.
According to the Marshall Project, a Maryland FOP lodge raised money for Darren Wilson, the Ferguson officer who killed Mike Brown. A Chicago officer who was fired for shooting a Black man 16 times found employment as a janitor in his local FOP chapter. The Baltimore chapter lambasted the prosecution of Freddie Gray’s killers. The Cincinnati FOP demanded an officer who shot a Black man in the head during a traffic stop be reinstated to his position.
The message here is clear: the FOP protects and serves white officers, and no one else. In the words of US Representative Bobby Rush, the FOP and the KKK “are like kissing, hugging and law-breaking cousins.”
It’s no wonder the NYPD FOP endorsed Trump in 2016 and again this year, saying, “We need your strong voice across this country.” Similar groups, like the International Union of Police Associations, have done so as well. It’s not surprising that the FOP hailed the use of federal forces against protesters this year, with some chapter presidents begging for their expansion to their cities.
As the recent shooting of Jacob Blake once again painfully demonstrates, America needs to completely reimagine, restructure, and rebuild its police force. As long as the FOP exists and receives support from the highest levels of government, however, it represents a severe roadblock to progress. The FOP will always support white officers over all else, and as they’ve readily proven time and again, they’re willing to “go to war” for it.
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