Reports Detail Unidentified Federal Law Enforcement Detaining Portland Protesters

PORTLAND, OREGON, USA: Police confront demonstrators as Black Lives Matter supporters demonstrate in Portland, Oregon on July 4, 2020 for the thirty-eighth day in a row at Portland's Justice Center and throughout P... PORTLAND, OREGON, USA: Police confront demonstrators as Black Lives Matter supporters demonstrate in Portland, Oregon on July 4, 2020 for the thirty-eighth day in a row at Portland's Justice Center and throughout Portland, with a riot declared about 12.20 am on July 5. CS tear gas and less-lethal weapons were used, and multiple arrests were made. (Photo by John Rudoff/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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July 17, 2020 11:54 a.m.

Unsettling accounts from Portland, Oregon spread widely on Friday morning, after a report revealed unidentified and camouflaged federal officers with unmarked vans driving up to anti-racism protesters and quickly grabbing and detaining them without explanation for their arrest. 

Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that the surreptitious arrests have been carried out since earlier this week.

One man who said he was detained by camouflaged officers earlier this week told the Washington Post that he initially didn’t know if the unidentified officers were legitimate police or right-wing agitators.

“It seemed like it was out of a horror/sci-fi, like a Philip K. Dick novel. It was like being preyed upon,” Mark Pettibone told the Post.

Officers from the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and Border Patrol Tactical Unit, had been sent to Portland to protect federal property amid protests, according Oregon Public Broadcasting. But interviews conducted by the broadcasting network reveal that some of those arrested were detained on streets nowhere near federal property and without any apparent evidence of criminal activity.

The escalation of tensions between protesters and law enforcement in Portland follows a wave of protests that had sprung up around the country in the weeks following the death of George Floyd at the hands on Minneapolis police on May 25. Many of those protests have slowed, but demonstrations have persisted in Portland —  the famously progressive Oregon city — for weeks now with no signs of stopping.

On Thursday night, federal officers used chemical irritants, smoke and impact munitions to disperse protesters from two federal buildings in Portland, The Oregonian reported. The confrontation came hours after acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf arrived in the city to meet with federal law enforcement officials.

Wolf had issued a scathing statement hours before the confrontation unfolded, condemning what he called a refusal on behalf of city officials to “restore order and protect their city.” 

He condemned the desecration of property and said “to attack” a federal courthouse by setting it aflame “is to attack America.” The secretary also rebuked protesters for allegedly assaulting “the brave law enforcement officers” charged with protecting the city’s buildings.

Turning to local and state officials, Wolf chastised them for “placing blame” on law enforcement for acts of defiance which has resulted in nearly nightly clashes with police who have used force in dispersal and detainment tactics and caused injuries.

“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,” Wolf said.

The statement cited multiple instances of “violent anarchists” defacing property, setting off fireworks, spraying graffiti on public buildings, failing to follow dispersal orders and assaulting officers.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown (D) responded on Twitter, calling Wolf’s visit “political theater from President Trump” that she said “has nothing to do with public safety.”

In another tweet, Brown said she told Wolf to remove all federal officers from the city’s streets.

“His response showed me he is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes,” Brown said hours before tensions intensified Thursday. “He is putting both Oregonians and local law enforcement officers in harm’s way.”

The violent encounters that ensued on Thursday night were captured in personal accounts obtained by The Oregonian

Following confrontations from the night before, and with renewed vigor to quell protests, Wolf tweeted on Friday morning, “We will prevail.”

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