Trump’s Armies of the Night Crack Down on Portland Protesters, with Plans to Expand to Other U.S. Cities

Portland
Federal cops on the streets of "Little Beirut," aka, Portland. (Doug Brown via ACLU of Oregon)
Federal law enforcement in soldiers' garb battle protesters in Portland, Ore., as state and local officials decry their presence and demand they leave; Trump promises that it's just the beginning.

In what must sound like manna from heaven to Fox News producers, President Trump is promising to expand his recent, Putin-like treatment of protesters in Portland, Oregon  to other U.S. cities, dispatching federal officers clad in camo and tactical gear to tangle with demonstrators throughout the U.S.

Talking to reporters in the Oval Office on Monday, Trump pledged to send “more federal law enforcement” to major American metropolises in a bid to quell the sometimes violent protests against racial bias and police brutality that have raged in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis cops.

“We’re not going to let this happen in our country,” Trump said of the unrest in what he characterized as cities run by “liberal Democrats.” He specifically name-checked New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland as being on his roster for federal domination.

By Monday afternoon, the Chicago Tribune was reporting that the Trump administration will be sending 150 federal officers from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “to assist other federal law enforcement and Chicago police in crime-fighting efforts.” Not surprisingly, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot isn’t keen on receiving the kind of help Portland’s been getting from the feds.

“We don’t need federal agents without any insignia taking people off the streets and holding them, I think, unlawfully,” Lightfoot said in a press conference Monday, according to the Trib.

Lightfoot was referring to the uproar over reports and footage of masked federal agents from various agencies and sub-agencies, dressed like Israeli soldiers on the West Bank, snatching Portland demonstrators off the street and hustling them away in unmarked vehicles for questioning.

One video posted to Twitter shows two tech’d-out, camo-wearing feds silently grabbing a man dressed in black and hauling him off to an unmarked car, later identified as a rental vehicle.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) confirmed to The Washington Post that the agents were theirs and that they had detained the man because he was “suspected of assaults against federal agents or destruction of federal property.”

Another man by the name of Mark Pettibone described a separate incident to the Post, in which unidentified federal agents took him into custody on July 15 in Portland, using methods more akin to a South American dictatorship.

Pettibone, 29, said he had been walking home after demonstrating peacefully when two men in military garb with “police” patches waylaid him, put him in a car and took him to the federal courthouse. The officers placed him in a cell, he said, Mirandized him and asked if he would waive his rights and answer questions.

He refused and was soon cut loose, without knowing the name of the agency that arrested him.

The detention left Pettibone “terrified.” He likened it to something “out of a horror/sci-fi, like a Philip K. Dick novel.”

Kidnappings, Pepper Spray and Head Shots

Speaking with National Public Radio on July 17, DHS’ acting deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli admitted that federal officers had used unmarked vehicles in Portland to take detainees to “a safe location for questioning.”

He knew of one incident where someone was detained and questioned “out of reach of a mob that had been gathering at one point,” but he claimed that he could not confirm the details of Pettibone’s case.

These anonymous arrests have drawn howls of outrage from elected officials, law enforcement figures and civil rights groups. But they’re not the only extreme tactic in the feds’ quiver.

Others include:

  • The feds’ liberal use of tear gas, in spite of a judge’s order restricting its use by local law enforcement. Recently, the feds gassed a group of women calling themselves the “Portland moms,” who have turned themselves into a human wall separating the demonstrators and the feds.
  • The firing of “less-than-lethal” projectiles at demonstrators, with near-lethal results. On July 12, a U.S. Marshals Service deputy shot protester Donavan LaBella in the head with an impact munition. Video shows LaBella, 26, peacefully holding a speaker aloft with both hands as he is pegged by a round fired from across the street. LaBella underwent facial reconstructive surgery. He remains in the hospital, recovering from his wounds.
  • The unrestrained application of brute force, best illustrated by a viral video showing disabled Navy veteran Christopher David, 53, unmoving and stoic, as one federal gendarme whales on the tall vet with a baton. Another officer finally forces David to turn away by dousing him directly in the face with pepper spray. Online, observers dubbed David “Captain Portland” for his heroic stance.

As a result, public officials up and down the political food chain have vociferously condemned the feds’ unconstitutional actions in the City of Roses.

Portland’s Mayor Ted Wheeler has demanded that Trump’s bully boys either stay in the building they’re supposedly protecting, the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse, or leave the city altogether.

Fellow Democrat and Oregon Governor Kate Brown also called on Trump’s “secret police,” as she referred to them recently on NPR, to amscray.

“This is not a dictatorship,” she said. “And Trump needs to get his officers off the streets.”

Similarly, in a joint statement, Oregon’s U.S. Senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Berkely, along with U.S. House members Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici — all Democrats — denounced what Wyden sarcastically referred to as Trump’s “expeditionary force,” demanding that the respective Inspector Generals for the DHS and the Justice Department investigate “the unrequested presence and violent actions of federal forces in Portland.”

U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy J. Williams, a holdover from the Obama administration, echoed the calls for an investigation into allegations of DHS agents detaining individuals without probable cause.

And on July 17, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum filed a federal lawsuit against DHS, CBP, the U.S. Marshals, the Federal Protection Service (which does security for federal buildings), alleging they have “engaged in unlawful law enforcement in violation of the civil rights of Oregonians by seizing and detaining them without probable cause.”

Rosenblum’s seeking a temporary restraining order to “stop federal authorities from unlawfully detaining Oregonians.” Her office’s Criminal Justice Division is investigating the assault on Donovan LaBella.

Tellingly, the AG’s lawsuit depicts the feds’ actions by using words that could concern the operations of a drug cartel:

Defendants are injuring the occupants of Portland by taking away citizens’ ability to determine whether they are being kidnapped by militia or other malfeasants dressed in paramilitary gear (such that they may engage in self-defense to the fullest extent permitted by law) or are being arrested (such that resisting might amount to a crime).

Not to be outdone, the ACLU of Oregon also filed suit last week, seeking an order blocking federal law enforcement from “dispersing, arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force against journalists or legal observers.”

The ACLU previously sought and obtained a U.S. District Court’s order preventing local cops from harassing members of the media. In a recent press release, the ACLU states that its new lawsuit was filed on the behalf of legal observers and local journalists, including the following:

 . . . Mathieu Lewis-Rolland, a freelance photographer who federal agents shot 10 times in the back [with less-than-lethal munitions] on Sunday; Justin Yau, a freelance journalist who federal agents attacked with tear gas; and Doug Brown, a legal observer who federal agents threatened to shoot.

The release adds that all of the above “were wearing high-visibility shirts that said ‘PRESS’ or ‘legal observer'” when threatened or assaulted by federal agents.

Trump’s Gambit

Aaron Mesh, the news editor for Portlandia’s premier alternative newsweekly, Willamette Week, reported in a July 16 post on comments Gov. Brown made when Chad Wolf, DHS’s skeezy acting secretary, paid a visit to Portland.

Ostensibly, Wolf was in town on that same date to tour the federal courthouse and see for himself the graffiti tagged on its exterior. The DHS head issued a statement that read like cheesy dialogue from the 2004 comedy Team America: World Police  — specifically, that Portland was “under siege” from a “violent mob” of left-wing loonies, which the local authorities refuse to subdue.

In response, Gov. Brown accused Wolf’s tangerine-colored jefe of engaging in “political theater” to the detriment of public safety.

“I told Acting Secretary Wolf that the federal government should remove all federal officers from our streets,” Brown wrote in a Tweet. “His response showed me he is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes.”

She added that Trump was “looking for a confrontation in Oregon in the hopes of winning political points in Ohio or Iowa.”

Mesh agreed with this assessment in his piece, noting that, “The federal crackdown on Portland is getting approving airplay on Fox News and other conservative media, and Trump has pledged to increase federal action if liberal cities don’t make arrests of protesters who damage property.”

Meanwhile, “Trump trails Joe Biden by 10 percentage points in reelection polls.”

In an interview with Front Page Confidential, Mesh said he has four reporters and several freelancers in rotation covering the nightly, Weimar-like melees in Portland between police and protesters.

Thing is, local cops have been butting heads with demonstrators long before Trump’s goons showed up.

Mesh explained that Portland’s radical tradition pre-dates Trump’s ascendancy. For example, back in the late ’80s/early ’90s, staffers for President George H.W. Bush dubbed the city “Little Beirut” for the intense demonstrations that occurred whenever members of Pappy Bush’s administration came to town.

“Honestly, since Donald Trump’s election, there have been in Portland what I would describe as an unbroken series of protests against the White House racism and white supremacy,” Mesh said.

This often manifested itself in street fights between leftists and alt-right groups such as Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys. So when the May 29 George Floyd protests began, with rioting and fires being lit inside businesses downtown, it initially didn’t feel out of the ordinary, the editor claimed.

However, Mesh said it was important to note that even after federal agents began to intervene in early July, most of the action was confined to about four blocks in downtown Portland.

There, around 200 to 400 hardcore protesters, most of them in their teens and twenties, engage nightly in “a kind of game of dare” with riot police, which he called, “Can we smash your building a little bit?”

The situation has been frustrating for city leaders and residents, he conceded, but it generally has not interrupted daily life in the city, and Portlanders have become “a bit jaded” about it.

“I really think that’s an important point to emphasize,” he said. “[Because] the President and Homeland Security and Border Patrol are acting or talking like they are pacifying a city in chaos.”

As much as the situation in Portland is a crackdown on free speech, it’s “very much a PR campaign,” one that’s “intended for an audience of Fox News,” he said.

But even as Trump’s minions plot to take the Portland crackdown to a major urban center near you, there are signs that Trump’s Pinochet moment may be having an unintended effect.

In a July 20 piece, Mesh observed that protesting crowds in downtown Portland were larger on January 18 and 19 than of late, with older participants, including the aforementioned “wall of moms” trying to protect the demonstrators.

“That’s in no small part because reports of aggressive tactics by federal officers . . . have galvanized residents of this city to confront what they see as a military occupation,” he wrote.

Should that trend hold in Portland, and the other spots on Trump’s authoritarian U.S. tour, the President may ultimately reap a whirlwind of unanticipated political pain.

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About Stephen Lemons

Stephen Lemons is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years of experience covering everything from government corruption to white-supremacist gangs. In addition to Front Page Confidential, his work has appeared in Phoenix New Times, the Los Angeles Times, Salon.com, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report magazine.

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