Arrests of some protesters and rioters made by federal authorities in Portland, Oregon, including one arrest caught in a video that’s gone viral, are the work of a new federal task force, according to a published report.
The task force has its roots in a June 26 executive order from President Donald Trump titled, “Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Activity,” a July 1 Department of Homeland Security news release said.
In response to the executive order, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf announced the DHS had established the Protecting American Communities Task Force.
“DHS is answering the President’s call to use our law enforcement personnel across the country to protect our historic landmarks,” Wolf said in a statement. “We won’t stand idly by while violent anarchists and rioters seek not only to vandalize and destroy the symbols of our nation, but to disrupt law and order and sow chaos in our communities.”
The release said the PACT will “conduct ongoing assessments of potential civil unrest or destruction and allocate resources to protect people and property.”
And in a sentence that links to recent activity in Portland, the release added: “This may involve potential surge activity to ensure the continuing protection of critical locations.”
In response to unrest in Portland, media reports claimed federal agents with no clear identification on their uniforms have been detaining protesters.
One video in particular, which shows federal agents detaining a protester who claims he “hasn’t done anything wrong,” has sparked outrage, garnering nearly 11 million views as of Saturday morning:
Warning: The following video contains vulgar language that some viewers may find offensive:
These federal officers (?) just rushed up and arrested someone for no reason pic.twitter.com/xcFVuoMZmN
— Matcha chai (@matcha_chai) July 15, 2020
On Friday, a Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman told Reuters that CBP agents were sent to Portland to support the DHS in its PACT mission.
According to The Nation, which previously used the term “secret police” in reporting on the federal agents, the activity was guided by a CBP memo dated July 1. The memo was linked to deployments of CBP agents over the July 4 weekend.
“While the Department respects every American’s right to protest peacefully, violence and civil unrest will not be tolerated,” the memo said.
“Violent anarchists have organized events in Portland over the last several weeks with willful intent to damage and destroy federal property, as well as injure federal officers and agents,” a CBP spokesman, who confirmed that CBP agents operating as members of the PACT arrested the man in the viral video, told The Nation. “These criminal actions will not be tolerated.”
A group of Oregon-based Democratic legislators pushed back against the deployment of CBP agents.
Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici said these federal agents have no place in Portland.
“These tactics include deploying federal agents without identifying insignia in an apparent effort to evade transparency and accountability, snatching people off the street with no apparent reason for apprehension, and using potentially deadly munitions to harm peaceful protesters. These actions are out of control,” the delegation wrote Friday in a letter to Wolf and Attorney General William Barr.
“They are more reflective of tactics of a government led by a dictator, not from the government of our constitutional democratic republic.”
“The message crafted by the Trump administration to justify this escalation of force and intimidation in Portland borders on propaganda, apparently to serve the President’s perceived political interests,” they said.
“This is unacceptable under our Constitution. There are undoubtedly dangerous acts being committed by a small number of individuals. Yet a Department of Homeland Security press release refers to ‘violent anarchists’ 72 times while describing graffiti,” wrote the lawmakers, who have the support of Democratic Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler.
Mr. President, this is an attack on our democracy.https://t.co/KGGBTI49eu
— Mayor Ted Wheeler (@tedwheeler) July 17, 2020
On social media, many liberals claimed Trump had deployed a “secret police” force:
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) July 18, 2020
For most of us, Trump irrevocably “crossed the line” a long time ago.
A question for the rest of you: if “secret police” wasn’t your line, what is?
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) July 17, 2020
People need to stop being so alarmist. So what if the president is a blatant white supremacist authoritarian dispatching secret police to kidnap Americans while our law enforcement and military are full of fascistic, conspiracy theory cultists?
What’s there to worry about?
— Jared Yates Sexton (@JYSexton) July 17, 2020
But Wolf, who visited Portland on Thursday, said federal agents are in Portland because of the violence taking place there.
“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,” he said in a statement. “Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it.
“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 and requesting fewer officers in their community. This failed response has only emboldened the violent mob as it escalates violence day after day.
“This siege can end if state and local officials decide to take appropriate action instead of refusing to enforce the law. DHS will not abdicate its solemn duty to protect federal facilities and those within them,” Wolf added.
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