You are now entering the Portland war zone.
Unidentified agents pulling people off the streets into unmarked cars may sound like something from George Orwell’s book “1984.” Or Ray Bradbury’s “The Pedestrian.”
But this isn’t happening in a dystopian novel. This is happening in the supposed land of the free.
Many protesters and local leaders are decrying the presence of federal agents in Portland, Oregon, a city which has already been host to some drastic protests and even created autonomous zones.
The city has suffered over 50 days of protests, and federal agents have moved in to try and quell the civil unrest. Where they were once just guarding Portland’s federal courthouse, however, they have since expanded their influence in the city.
The current civil unrest in America is already a tumultuous situation, and with this influx of federal agents, Portland may just be the beginning of something bigger.
Federal agencies appear
Federal agents were first sent into Portland, Oregon on June 27 to guard the federal courthouse. The influx of troops came just a day after President Trump passed an executive order dedicated to protecting federal landmarks and properties in the wake of racial injustice protests around the country.
A recent protest-turned-riot at the federal courthouse is one of the contributing factors to the expanding influence in Portland. Protesters dismantled a safety fence, reportedly broke windows, launched fireworks at the building, and reportedly attacked law enforcement officials.
Police and federal agents went into action arresting protesters and dispersing them with tear gas as well as “crowd-control munitions.”
It was after this event that federal troops appeared to be doing more than just protecting federal property.
Troops have come in from a variety of federal agencies including but not limited to the BORTAC Unit from US Customs and Border Protection, the US Marshals Service, and the Federal Protective Service.
An increasing number of incidents
Many in Portland are already criticizing the presence of federal agents, and there have been a slew of incidents following their arrival.
Agents have been known to arrest people who are just suspected of committing federal crimes, but not entirely confirmed in all cases.
Protester Mark Pettibone told the Washington Post that officers detained him as he was walking home from a protest. Pettibone claimed men in green military fatigues and generic “police patches” showed up in an unmarked vehicle.
“I was terrified,” said Pettibone. “It seemed like it was out of a horror/sci-fi, like a Philip K. Dick novel. It was like being preyed upon.”
CBP agents also arrested another unidentified individual and forced them into an unmarked vehicle in a now-viral video. A statement regarding the incident on the Customs and Border Patrol website says,
“CBP agents had information indicating the person in the video was suspected of assaults against federal agents or destruction of federal property. Once CBP agents approached the suspect, a large and violent mob moved towards their location. For everyone’s safety, CBP agents quickly moved the suspect to a safer location for further questioning.”
The video, however, seems to show only a few nonviolent individuals advancing towards the agents. There also does not appear to be any verbal comments from the agents.
Agents have also been attacking nonviolent protesters. Navy veteran Christopher David was beaten with a baton and sprayed with a chemical irritant on July 19, all because he questioned their loyalty to their oath to defend the Constitution. The incident left David with two broken bones in his right hand.
Federal police strike protester with baton, use pepper spray and tear gas outside courthouse in Portland pic.twitter.com/VX2xTVaaYq
— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) July 19, 2020
After kicking away a tear gas canister rolling toward him, which didn’t land anywhere near law enforcement, federal troops shot at unarmed protester Donovan LaBella with impact munitions. He was sent to the hospital in serious condition with a skull fracture.
WARNING: The below video contains graphic content and visible blood. Viewer discretion is advised.
Rubber bullets and other forms of crowd control munitions have already caused a fair share of severe injuries to protesters. The use of less-lethal munitions and seemingly increased use of force by these federal agents is now also contributing to controversy around the situation.
With the aggressive tactics they’re using, the line between trying to establish peace and establish martial law is becoming disconcertingly blurred.
Another controversy comes as a result of a leaked DHS memo that notes,
“The highly skilled tactical teams assigned to support the civil unrest and riots do not specifically have training in riot control and mass demonstrations.”
While this does not discount the fact these operatives are trained in general, the fact they do not specifically have riot control training is a cause of concern to many.
A DHS spokesperson has refuted this claim, saying “the reported information is incorrect.”
Our sources have given us permission to post the DHS memo prepared for DHS acting secretary Chad Wolf on the lack of training for tactical agents deployed to Portland. See section C. https://t.co/dx9UIM9uhP pic.twitter.com/pBDpR6Mtzu
— Zolan Kanno-Youngs (@KannoYoungs) July 20, 2020
Many parties are now taking action against federal agencies for these incidents. Multiple Democratic House Committee chairs including from the House Judiciary, Homeland Security, Oversight, and Reform committees are calling for an independent watchdog investigation into federal agent activities.
Not asked for and not wanted by many
Multiple elected officials from the local-to-federal level are criticizing the presence of these federal agents. Portland officials including Mayor Ted Wheeler, Governor Kate Brown, and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty have condemned the troops for getting involved in the tumultuous situation.
This is clearly a coordinated strategy from the White House.
It is irresponsible and it is escalating an already tense situation. Remove your heightened troop presence now. https://t.co/po6jOg43RT
— Mayor Ted Wheeler (@tedwheeler) July 16, 2020
Mr. President, this is an attack on our democracy.https://t.co/KGGBTI49eu
— Mayor Ted Wheeler (@tedwheeler) July 17, 2020
This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety. The President is failing to lead this nation. Now he is deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland in a blatant abuse of power by the federal government. https://t.co/PdlZkmW0mQ
— Governor Kate Brown (@OregonGovBrown) July 16, 2020
Some federal officials have also contributed their voices including Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who cited the incident in Lafayette Square where federal agents dispersed peaceful protesters with tear gas so Trump could have a photo-op.
Some described the event as having displayed an excessive use of force, much like the events in Portland seem to demonstrate.
I thought we’d already covered this after the attacks in Lafayette Square: the US government should not be using unidentified federal officers as a secret police force to terrorize US citizens & violate their constitutional rights. This is outrageous. https://t.co/EIXbZmHXak
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) July 17, 2020
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) has also made chilling comparisons between the federal agents in Portland to the Gestapo, the Nazi’s secret police during World War II.
Others have claimed that the way federal agents are arresting people without informing them of their crimes, as well as using force on peaceful protesters is a violation of their constitutional rights. Representative Suzanne Bonaminci (D-OR) said,
“The overly aggressive conduct of federal officers in Portland is alarming and unconstitutional. Oregonians must be able to exercise their First Amendment rights safely, without being picked up and detained by unidentified federal officers.”
Wheeler has also come under fire however for his management of the crisis by both Hardesty and federal government officials.
— Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty (@JoAnnPDX) July 18, 2020
Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf criticized state and local officials in Portland in a statement on July 16.
“The city of Portland has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city…A federal courthouse is a symbol of justice – to attack it is to attack America. Instead of addressing violent criminals in their communities, local and state leaders are instead focusing on placing blame on law enforcement.”
The statement then goes on to list a multitude of incidents related to the destruction of federal property and attacks on agents.
Many members of the federal government including President Trump and Wolf claim the presence of the federal agents is in order to help the city and stop the violence.
But since their arrival, the situation appears to have only escalated.
Even before the intervention of federal officers, however, there have been cases of protests descending into violence in the city.
These include protesters tearing down barricades or hurling frozen water bottles, stones, and other forms of debris at law enforcement. Additionally, people have also injured police with fireworks intended to be aimed at federal property.
While Wolf’s statement about Portland being under siege by a “violent mob” is a broad generalization of the situation, the city’s protests are not entirely without a criminal presence. There is a key difference between peacefully protesting and hurling debris at law enforcement or vandalizing federal property.
There is also a key difference between federal agents snatching up peaceful protesters who they only suspect of being criminals, and arresting actually-confirmed criminals.
The presence of federal law enforcement has certainly escalated the situation in Portland. Yet it is also important to consider there have been cases of violence and some rioting in the city even before their arrival.
Parties on both sides have contributed to escalating the violent situation. Without coming together as a community to create a peaceful dialogue and build bridges between people, law enforcement, and even the federal government, the tensions and violence may only burn brighter.
A test for what’s to come?
President Trump doesn’t just have his eyes on Portland, Oregon. He’s also reportedly setting his eyes on other cities run by Democratic-elected officials.
Portland is how it starts. pic.twitter.com/RgWWRujfqy
— The Lincoln Project (@ProjectLincoln) July 19, 2020
“We’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia, Detroit and Baltimore and all of these, Oakland is a mess. We’re not going to let this happen in our country. All run by liberal Democrats,” said Trump.
Reports are already circulating that Trump is planning to send federal agents to Chicago. Though it is uncertain if they will be there to deal with protesters or the city’s high gang violence and crime rate.
According to an article by the Chicago Tribune, the plan has already been met with backlash from Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Governor J.B. Pritzker, and the ACLU.
It seems Portland is just the beginning of something bigger. If similar events continue, who knows what dire ramifications they may have on our country.