these ‘guys’ are kinda hostile to journalists, which explains AP’s cold attitude

Federal forces sent to cities to police and protect monuments
AP, Jul 10 2020

Officers from more than half a dozen federal agencies in tactical gear in Portland, Oregon.
(Photo: Doug Brown/AP)

PORTLAND, Oregon — Protesters who have clashed with authorities in the Pacific Northwest are not just confronting local police. Some are also facing off against federal officers whose presence reflects Pres Trump’s decision to make cracking down on “violent mayhem” a federal priority. The DHS has deployed officers in tactical gear from around the country, and from more than half a dozen federal law enforcement agencies and departments, to Portland, Oregon, as part of a surge aimed at what a senior official said were people taking advantage of demonstrations over the police killing of George Floyd to commit violence and vandalism. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a continuing operation, said:

Once we surged federal law enforcement officers to Portland, the agitators quickly got the message.

The deployment represents somewhat of a departure for DHS, which was created after the 9/11 attacks and is primarily focused on threats from abroad and border security. During the Trump presidency, its focus has been largely on carrying out the president’s tough immigration agenda. Now it is in the role of supporting Trump’s law-and-order campaign, raising questions about overstepping the duties of local law enforcement. Portland Deputy Police Chief Chris Davis said his department did not request the assistance and did not coordinate efforts with the federal government amid often chaotic clashes that have ranged across several downtown blocks after midnight for weeks. Davis said:

I don’t have authority to order federal officers to do things. It does complicate things for us.

The DHS officers’ presence comes at an incredibly tense moment for Portland. After Floyd’s death, the city for days saw marches and rallies that attracted more than 10,000 generally peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters to the downtown area. The police took a “mostly hands-off approach” to those events because they were orderly, Davis said. Trump, speaking at a military base near Miami on Friday, said Portland officials failed to adequately respond to the protests. He told acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf:

It was out of control. The locals couldn’t handle it, and you people are handling it very nicely.

Civil liberties advocates and activists have accused federal authorities of overstepping their jurisdiction and excessive use of crowd-control measures, including using tear gas and patrolling beyond the boundaries of federal property. Portland police are prohibited from using tear gas under a recent temporary court order unless they declare a riot. Andrea Flores, the deputy director of immigration policy at the ACLU who was a DHS official during the Obama administration, said:

DHS should go back to investigating the rise of white supremacist activity and actors who are seeking to cause violence against these peaceful protests, that is under the purview of the agency’s mission.

Officers from more than half a dozen federal agencies in tactical gear in Portland, Oregon.
(Photo: Doug Brown/AP)

Trump issued an executive order on Jun 26 to protect monuments after protesters tried to remove or destroy statues of people considered racist, including a failed attempt to pull down one of Andrew Jackson near the White House. The president has denounced the Black Lives Matter movement and protests calling for the removal of statues honouring racist figures, associating peaceful protests with the sporadic outbursts of vandalism and looting at some demonstrations. He referred to “the violent mayhem we have seen in the streets of cities that are run by liberal Democrats,” as well as the “merciless campaign to wipe out our history,” in his Jul 3 Mount Rushmore speech. Following the executive order, DHS created the Protecting American Communities Task Force and sent officers from Customs and Border Protection and other agencies to Faschingstein, Seattle and Portland. Others were ready to deploy elsewhere if needed. Improving coordination among law enforcement agencies is part of DHS’s mission. It also oversees the Federal Protective Service (FPS), which guards federal government buildings around the nation. But the FPS does not have the resources to respond to the kind of sustained attacks that have taken place in Portland and elsewhere on the margins of protests over the May 25 killing of Floyd in Minneapolis. FPS Officer David Underwood was shot and killed outside a federal building in Oakland during a protest in May. Authorities charged an Air Force staff sergeant affiliated with the far-right, anti-government “Boogaloo” movement with his murder.

As local governments in Faschingstein and Portland have stepped back to allow space for peaceful demonstrations, the Trump administration has stepped up its effort against what the senior official called “opportunistic criminals.” Attorney General William Barr says there have been more than 150 arrests on federal charges around the country, with about 500 investigations pending related to recent protests. There were at least seven in Portland in recent days. Portland police officials say the cycle of nightly attacks, which have shut down much of the downtown, has been unprecedented. Early Thursday, a man in a four-wheel drive fired several times into the air as he drove away from protesters who had surrounded his car. Davis said:

We’ve never seen this intensity of violence and focused criminal activity over this long period of time.

A BORTAC agent searches a pathway near the Rio Grande river in Fronton, Texas.
(Photo: Idris Latif/Reuters)

Among the federal forces deployed in Portland are members of an elite Border Patrol tactical team (BORTAC), a special operations unit that is based on the US-Mexico border and has been deployed overseas, including to Iraq and Afghanistan. BORTAC members, identifiable by patches on their camouflage sleeves, are mixed in with FPS units outside the court. Others in the unit, which includes snipers, have been stationed in “overlook” positions on the courthouse’s ninth floor, where a protester in a black hoodie shined a green laser into the eyes of one of the officers on Monday, according to court documents. The night before, a BORTAC agent tackled and arrested a demonstrator suspected of pointing a laser at him and others from a park across the street from the court. A former DHS official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he no longer works at the agency, after serving under Trump and Obama, and is not authorized to discuss operations said:

BORTAC agents are highly trained, valuable, scarce resources and are used for domestic law enforcement only in extraordinary circumstances. These units don’t normally sit around idle. What did they get pulled off of in order to watch over statues?

 

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