Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
Federal law enforcement officials deployed by President Donald Trump to Portland, Oregon are, by all accounts, operating as if the city is a police state, according to multiple reports and videos.
In recent weeks, camouflaged federal officers from the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC), the Border Patrol’s rough equivalent of a SWAT team, have been patrolling the city, which has seen ongoing protests since the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis in late May.
But in recent days, these federal law enforcement officers have escalated their tactics, using unmarked cars to grab protesters and arrest them, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported late Thursday night. Two protesters said they were walking home after a relatively tame night of protests on July 15 when a minivan suddenly pulled up in front of them.
“I see guys in camo,” one of the protesters, Conner O’Shea, told OPB. “Four or five of them pop out, open the door and it was just like, ‘Oh shit. I don’t know who you are or what you want with us.’”
Federal police have charged at least 13 protesters with crimes, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting, while they’ve arrested others and released them, such as O’Shea’s companion that night, Mark Pettibone.
“I am basically tossed into the van,” Pettibone said. “And I had my beanie pulled over my face so I couldn’t see and they held my hands over my head.” The U.S. Marshals Service denied that they had arrested or even detained Pettibone, according to OPB.
A video posted earlier this week showed unidentified federal officers in camouflage on the street arresting a protester who had their hands up.
Lawyer Juan Chavez, who serves as director of the civil rights project at the Oregon Justice Resource Center in Portland, compared the feds’ tactics to “abduction” and “kidnapping people off the streets.”
“It’s like stop and frisk meets Guantanamo Bay,” he said.
Last weekend, an unarmed protester was standing across the street and holding a speaker in when federal agents shot him in the head with nonlethal munitions, rendering him bloody and unconscious, and resulting in facial and skull fractures.
On June 26, Trump signed an executive order purporting to protect monuments, which have been toppled in recent months all around the country. As part of that order, he gave a six-month authorization to the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies to provide “personnel to assist with the protection of Federal monuments, memorials, statues, or property.”
As a result, federal law enforcement has been in Portland since July 2, and they’ve also been deployed in at least two other cities, Seattle and Washington D.C., according to Willamette Week. The paper also noted that along with the Marshals and BORTAC, the Federal Protective Services and DHS itself have also participated in patrolling the protests.
President Trump and administration officials have praised federal law enforcement’s actions in Portland who’ve claimed that Portland officials and local police couldn’t handle the protests.
Acting DHS deputy secretary Ken Cuccinnelli told Fox News this week that protesters in Portland “are seeking opportunities to destroy” the cops. His boss, acting DHS Sec. Chad Wolf visited the city Thursday afternoon and in a statement, referred to federal action in Portland as a “siege.”
“This siege can end if state and local officials decide to take appropriate action instead of refusing to enforce the law,” Wolf said in a statement. “DHS will not abdicate its solemn duty to protect federal facilities and those within them. Again, I reiterate the Department’s offer to assist local and state leaders to bring an end to the violence perpetrated by anarchists.”
DHS also released a statement on Thursday in an attempt to justify the federal presence in the city.
But the feds are quickly wearing out their welcome among, well, everyone who actually has a connection to the city. In separate statements, Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Earl Blumenauer told Wolf, in no uncertain terms, that his agents should leave the city.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown have also said they want the feds out of Portland.
“We do not need or want their help,” Wheeler said in a statement earlier this week. “The best thing they can do is stay inside their building, or leave Portland altogether.”
Cover: Twitter/Sparrow Project