With Portland plagued by weeks of violent protests, including attacks on police, Oregon’s leaders are demanding an investigation into federal officers who they branded an “occupying” force assaulting “peaceful protesters.”
Four Democratic lawmakers from the state – US Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, as well as US House members Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici – called for the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to probe the “violent actions of federal forces in Portland” on Friday.
Like Mayor Ted Wheeler, who said on Tuesday that his biggest worry was the tactics that federal law enforcement officers were using against protesters, Oregon’s representatives in Congress took a swipe at the Trump administration’s role in quelling the unrest.
“DHS and DOJ are engaged in acts that are horrific and outrageous in our constitutional democratic republic,” Merkley said. Wyden referred to federal forces as an “occupying army.”
The demand came one day after acting DHS chief Chad Wolf visited Portland and blasted local officials for enabling “violent anarchists” to attack people and damage property in the city for 47 straight days. His visit coincided with claims that federal officers deployed to assist police were “abducting” protesters in unmarked vehicles.
A viral video that shows camouflaged officers with “police” patches rounding up a protester, escorting him to an unmarked car and then leaving the scene has sparked allegations of abuse.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) acknowledged on Friday that they were behind the arrest, noting that the protester in the video, which began making the rounds online earlier this week, was “suspected of assaults against federal agents or destruction of federal property.” CBP rejected claims that they violated the established procedure by not wearing name tags on their uniforms, with the agency saying “the names of the agents were not displayed due to recent doxing incidents against law enforcement personnel.”
CBP noted that they had to whisk the protester away in a rush due to safety reasons, as “a large and violent mob,” which could not be seen in the short clip, “moved towards their location.”
While critics see the federal officers’ involvement in curbing the ongoing unrest as the overreach, local police have been increasingly struggling to contain the spate of violence on their own. On Thursday, protesters threatened to “burn down” Portland police’s Southeast Precinct building. Last Saturday, a tense standoff between the group besieging the courthouse in downtown Portland and police saw a protester try to break the building’s side door with a hammer.
US Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams, meanwhile, announced a probe into the reports that federal officers “detained two protesters without probable cause.” In his statement, however, he noted that while there might have been “limited instances” where they overstepped their authority, feds’ presence on the ground was justified since they were protecting federal property.
“[Federal officers] have rebuffed efforts to enter the [courthouse] building by force and have been met with an onslaught of commercial fireworks, laser strikes, glass, mortars, paint and anything else near at hand,” he said, adding that the officers “endeavored to find the individuals within the crowd” responsible for the violence and arrested them in “a manner that is safe for both the officers and nearby non-violent protesters.”
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