NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, July 20th, 2020

Activists and local leaders challenge illegal detentions by federal agents in Portland

Since late in the evening of Tues­day, July 14th, uni­formed and masked author­i­ties with­out iden­ti­fi­ca­tion have been peri­od­i­cal­ly detain­ing peo­ple at ran­dom in Port­land, Ore­gon, the Pacif­ic North­west­’s third largest urban cen­ter, ques­tion­ing them and releas­ing them after­ward with­out fil­ing any charges.

Peo­ple have jus­ti­fi­ably asked why these deten­tions are hap­pen­ing out of sync with demon­stra­tions and peri­od­ic attempts to spray paint or cause oth­er dam­age to fed­er­al facil­i­ties with­in Port­land over the last fifty days, why they are hap­pen­ing out­side of fed­er­al juris­dic­tion with­in Port­land, and why they are con­tin­u­ing despite suc­cess­ful efforts to pre­vent fur­ther van­dal­ism to pub­lic property.

The deten­tions were first report­ed by Ore­gon Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing on Thurs­day, July 16th, but fed­er­al author­i­ties in down­town Port­land have been tak­ing an aggres­sive stance since June 26th, when an exec­u­tive order was issued by Don­ald Trump’s White House to pro­tect nation­al mon­u­ments and buildings.

It’s the sec­ond time dur­ing Trump’s term that they have tak­en such a stance, the first being in June of 2018 when they cleared out a protest camp sur­round­ing South­west Port­land’s Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE) headquarters.

On July 13th, Trump tweet­ed that fed­er­al author­i­ties were “doing a great job” in Port­land quelling protests. Port­land May­or Ted Wheel­er respond­ed on July 14th that the actions of fed­er­al law enforce­ment were unwelcome.

“The best thing they can do is stay inside their build­ing, or leave Port­land alto­geth­er… Our goal is to end these vio­lent demon­stra­tions quick­ly and safely.”

The ran­dom deten­tions start­ed short­ly thereafter.

Demonstrations in Portland, Oregon

Protests have been ongo­ing in the Rose City for weeks (Pho­to: Math­ieu Lewis-Rol­land, repro­duced with permission)

On July 16th, act­ing Sec­re­tary of Home­land Secu­ri­ty Chad Wolf, one of the archi­tects of the “fam­i­ly sep­a­ra­tion” pol­i­cy at the bor­der, met with local law enforce­ment offi­cials, includ­ing the head of the Port­land police offi­cer union.

His offi­cial com­ments were best sum­ma­rized by his intro­duc­tion: “The city of Port­land has been under siege for forty-sev­en straight days by a vio­lent mob while local polit­i­cal lead­ers refuse to restore order to pro­tect their city. Each night, law­less anar­chists destroy and des­e­crate prop­er­ty, includ­ing the fed­er­al cour­t­house, and attack the brave law enforce­ment offi­cers pro­tect­ing it.”

May­or Wheel­er has, in response to Wolf’s com­ments, demand­ed that fed­er­al offi­cers be removed from Port­land immediately.

(The Port­land Police Bureau sub­se­quent­ly issued a state­ment that fed­er­al offi­cers would no longer be allowed inside the their com­mand center.)

Wheel­er also was no doubt try­ing to get out ahead of an ulti­ma­tum from one of his city com­mis­sion­ers, Jo Ann Hard­esty, after Port­land police coor­di­nat­ed an assault on demon­stra­tors on July 18th in tan­dem with fed­er­al author­i­ties, which result­ed in a counter-demon­stra­tion that led to a por­tion of the head­quar­ters of the Port­land Police Asso­ci­a­tion being set on fire,

Gov­er­nor Brown has also asked the Trump regime and act­ing Sec­re­tary Wolf to remove fed­er­al forces from Port­land, stat­ing in one arti­cle that “This polit­i­cal the­ater from Trump has noth­ing to do with pub­lic safe­ty… The pres­i­dent is fail­ing to lead this nation. Now he is deploy­ing fed­er­al offi­cers to patrol the streets of Port­land in a bla­tant abuse of pow­er by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment,” and stat­ing in a more recent inter­view that “There’s absolute­ly no ques­tion that by hav­ing the pres­ence of fed­er­al offi­cers here, it’s sim­ply like adding gaso­line to a fire.”

Ore­gon Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ellen Rosen­blum has filed a law­suit against DHS and has ini­ti­at­ed a crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion, stat­ing that their agents “have engaged in unlaw­ful law enforce­ment in vio­la­tion of the civ­il rights of Ore­go­ni­ans by seiz­ing and detain­ing them with­out prob­a­ble cause.”

On July 17th, Sen­a­tor Jeff Merkley’s office released a let­ter, co-signed by Sen­a­tor Ron Wyden and Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Earl Blu­me­nauer and Suzanne Bonam­i­ci (all of whom rep­re­sent the greater Port­land area) to Attor­ney Gen­er­al William Barr and act­ing Home­land Secu­ri­ty Sec­re­tary Chad Wolf, call­ing the actions of fed­er­al agents in the Port­land protests “out of con­trol” and “an abuse of power.”

That same day, the ACLU Foun­da­tion of Ore­gon sued the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty and U.S. Mar­shals Ser­vice to block fed­er­al law enforce­ment from dis­pers­ing, arrest­ing, threat­en­ing to arrest, or using phys­i­cal force against jour­nal­ists or legal observers.

The U.S. Attor­ney for Ore­gon, Bil­ly J. Williams, is unsur­pris­ing­ly not being help­ful. Williams is call­ing for a fed­er­al inves­ti­ga­tion into the deten­tions, but also imply­ing that the real cul­prit is antifa. “There are orga­ni­za­tions who are hell­bent on caus­ing prob­lems across the Unit­ed States – antifa being one of them,” he said. “There are oth­ers. Peo­ple need to wake up to this.”

And if the desired goal has been intim­i­da­tion of the pro­test­ers, that seems to have failed mis­er­ably. But one new ques­tion has arisen — is it DHS, ICE or Bor­der Patrol per­son­nel that has been detain­ing demon­stra­tors at random?

In a scoop by Willamette Week, it was found that at least some of the vehi­cles used to detain demon­stra­tors were rent­ed from a local Enter­prise Rent-A-Car facil­i­ty. Duties of fed­er­al law enforce­ment offi­cers are usu­al­ly car­ried out in tax­pay­er-owned vehi­cles that are des­ig­nat­ed for offi­cial use only.

So was some­one slop­py, or was some­one try­ing to fur­ther hide their tracks?

Or were they DHS, ICE or Bor­der Patrol per­son­nel at all?

One pos­si­bil­i­ty, not con­firmed: In recent demon­stra­tions in Wash­ing­ton D.C. in June, the Fed­er­al Bureau of Pris­ons used spe­cial oper­a­tions resource teams with­out iden­ti­fy­ing marks or badges to enforce the perime­ter around the White House. The Fed­er­al Bureau of Pris­ons has a cor­rec­tion­al facil­i­ty in Sheri­dan, some fifty miles from Port­land (which has been deal­ing with accu­sa­tions of ill treat­ment of its pris­on­ers in rela­tion to COVID-19 since at least March 31st).

They are bound by the nature of the facil­i­ty to have at least one such team in readi­ness in the event of an emer­gency at the cor­rec­tion­al facility.

The ques­tion remains: What agency is detain­ing peo­ple in Portland?

And on whose author­i­ty are they acting?

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