Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to the Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. Follow her on Twitter @fridaghitis. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. Read more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

How far will President Donald Trump go to win re-election? We will only know the answer in November – perhaps later – but for a look at the more sinister aspects of his campaign, take a look at what is happening in Portland, Oregon, and pair it with the overarching theme of Trump’s campaign ads, now trying to paint America as a raging inferno of anarchist mayhem.

Frida Ghitis

In recent days, federal security forces have taken to the streets of Portland, clad in camouflage gear suitable for a war zone, and handling anti-racism protesters with tactics reminiscent of dictatorships.

The people of Portland have been busy recording and sharing the appalling scenes, as operatives in unmarked uniforms and camouflage have grabbed people off the street, sometimes appearing to subdue them in the process, and bundled them away into vehicles.

Oregon Public Broadcasting documented the allegations of a protester, Mark James Pettibone, who said he was walking home long after the demonstration Wednesday night, when several “guys in camo,” grabbed him, threw him in an unmarked van, pulling his hat down over his eyes.

“I couldn’t see and they held my hands over my head,” he told reporters.

The people detaining him never identified themselves, he said, or explained why he has being held. He told Oregon Public Broadcasting that they took him to what he would learn was a federal detention center, where, he said, he was made to face the wall while he was patted down, photographed and then put into a cell. He said two officers came in to read him his Miranda rights, he asked for a lawyer and was eventually released.

According to OPB: “In a statement, the U.S. Marshals Service declined to comment on the practice of using unmarked vehicles, but said their officers had not arrested Pettibone. ‘All United States Marshals Service arrestees have public records of arrest documenting their charges. Our agency did not arrest or detain Mark James Pettibone.’”

Other Oregon protesters are telling and showing similar stories. One video, which went viral this week, showed two men in full camouflage gear rapidly approaching a young protester – with hands raised – on the street at night, apprehending the person, hustling them to a minivan and driving off. It was unclear what became of this protester, but in a statement on Friday, according to the Washington Post, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection said its agents had taken the action and that they ‘had information indicating the person in the video was suspected of assaults against federal agents or destruction of federal property.’”

In what is clearly hyperbole – but captures the reaction – the actions of the unidentified federal forces in Portland sent the hashtag #Gestapo trending on Twitter.

Who detained Pettibone? Nobody’s saying, and the Marshals Service appear to have disavowed the encounter.

Using unmarked security forces is the hallmark tactic of a despot, and it may well be unconstitutional in the United States, especially when done without following proper police procedure. In fact, it is likely a violation of Justice Department rules. In 2014, the Civil Rights Division chastised the Ferguson, Missouri, police for allowing its officers to not display their names on their uniforms, calling it a “near-universal requirement of sound police practices.”

Not identifying the agency is far, far worse. There is zero accountability; no process for tracking abuses. It all but guarantees excesses.

It’s not the first time Trump has deployed federal forces against protesters. For his infamous bible photo-op near the White House last month, in which peaceful protesters were forcefully dispersed using concussion grenades, pepper spray and swinging batons, he used agents from the Bureau of Prisons, Park Police and others.

Unaccountable, unidentified security operations are a favorite practice of dictators with questionable intentions.

The approach is reminiscent of Vladimir Putin’s “Little Green Men,” Russian forces that invaded Ukraine’s Crimea in unmarked uniforms while Putin vehemently denied it. Grabbing political critics off the street reminds me of the actions of South American military dictators in the 1970s and 80s, who “disappeared,” activists in their dirty war.

We are not there yet, to state the obvious. But the trajectory is unmistakable. The Oregon ACLU’s Jann Carson noted, “When we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street, we call it kidnapping.”

The Department of Homeland Security, created after 9/11 to protect the country from external threats, has been seemingly enlisted by Trump to bolster his presidential campaign. And the President appears to be yearning for a fight, hoping for street battles so he can claim to be the one who can put them down, so he can argue – as he does in his commercials – that a victory for Democrats will put anarchists and socialists in power. That’s a laughable claim, but he’s going with it.

After he issued an executive order to defend the statues of American traitors and others, following protesters’ demands that racists should not be honored, DHS created the Protecting American Communities Task Force, and sent security forces from several agencies to “quell” protests, as Trump put it, in Washington, Seattle and Portland.

Portland leaders are asking Trump to remove federal forces. But DHS’ Acting Secretary Chad Wolf is echoing Trump’s campaign rhetoric to justify their continued presence, claiming that Portland “has been under siege by a violent mob [of] lawless anarchists.”

Federal agents are inflaming the situation, not calming it. And that is precisely what Trump wants. Nothing would suit him more than more violence. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown was exactly right when she tweeted, “Trump is looking for a confrontation in Oregon in the hopes of winning political points in Ohio or Iowa.”

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    This is far from over. Acting US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan, calling the demonstrators, “criminals,” flashed a dark glimpse of Trump’s playbook on Fox News Thursday, that should concern all Americans who cherish the freedom to exercise their Constitutionally protected First Amendment rights.

    “I don’t want to get ahead of the president and his announcement,” Morgan said, “but the Department of Justice is going to be involved in this. DHS is going to be involved in this. We’re really going to take a stand across the board. And we’re going to do what needs to be done to protect the men and women of this country.”

    Trump thinks images of chaos and violence will help him. How far is he willing to go? Stay tuned.