PORTLAND, OREGON (REUTERS) – US federal law enforcement officers are cracking down on protesters in Portland, Oregon, under the Trump administration’s new executive order to protect US monuments in what the state’s Democratic governor has called “political theatre.”
Multiple videos posted online show camouflage-clad officers without clear identification badges using force and unmarked vehicles to transport arrested protesters.
“It’s kidnapping people!” one person said off-camera, as officers marched a protester away.
A US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokeswoman said on Friday (July 17) agents had been deployed to Portland to support a newly launched US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unit, tasked with enforcing last month’s executive order from Republican President Donald Trump to protect federal monuments and buildings.
The spokeswoman did not provide details, saying it could jeopardise the safety of agents, but said they had been trained for operations “in chaotic environments.”
In addition to Border Patrol agents, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) officers are helping DHS’s Federal Protective Service, which provides security for federal buildings, Ice said.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown called it “a blatant abuse of power by the federal government,” “This political theatre from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety,” Ms Brown wrote on Twitter.
Media reports said federal agents had arrested 13 people, but there was no immediate confirmation from the authorities.
Portland protester Conner O’Shea said agents chased him in an unmarked vehicle Wednesday while walking with his friend Mark Pettibone back to their cars. “I know they’re looking for people that are doing graffiti and laser pointing,” he said. “We haven’t done any of that, which makes it all the more scary.”
“It’s horrifying and I think as Americans we’ve read about things like this happening in other countries, you know, in textbooks about the 70s, 80s,” he said.
Demonstrators protesting against racism and police brutality have gathered around the federal courthouse daily in Portland since the killing of African American George Floyd during a May 25 arrest in Minneapolis, with crowds at times exceeding 10,000.
Portland police used tear gas on the protesters, some of whom sprayed graffiti on buildings, until Governor Brown in early July banned its use except in the case of riots.
One video posted online shows an officer bundling a protester into a dark minivan. The CBP spokeswoman said the agency had information that person was suspected of assaults against federal agents or destruction of federal property and “a large and violent mob” moved toward the agents once they approached the suspect.
“For everyone’s safety, CBP agents quickly moved the suspect to a safer location for further questioning,” the spokeswoman said.
She said agents wore a CBP insignia during the encounter, but that their names were not displayed to protect them against retribution.
Another video shows an officer shoving away medics trying to aid someone. And still another showed a protester bleeding profusely from his head after federal troops allegedly shot him with a weapon firing non-lethal munition.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said the US Marshals Service”will be conducting a full investigation” into the shooting.
A senior DHS official said officers arrested people for assaulting federal officers and vandalizing federal property, but did not provide specific cases. The official, who requested anonymity to discuss the issue, rejected the idea anyone was arrested without good cause.
“Federal officials don’t go around arresting people for no reason,” the official said. “This isn’t communist China.”
The US Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment on the arrests and any related charges.
Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, who visited Portland on Thursday, released a statement that included a list of incidents DHS officers had faced since late May in Portland and praised them in a series of tweets on Friday.
“These valiant men and women have defended our institutions of justice against violent anarchists for 48 straight days,” he wrote. He added that DHS officers had been “assaulted with lasers and frozen water bottles” and two officers had been injured.
Mr Wheeler, the Portland mayor and a Democrat like Ms Brown, said he did not meet with Mr Wolf or the DHS delegation.
“We’re aware that they’re here. We wish they weren’t. We haven’t been invited to meet with them, and if we were we would decline.”