For the past several days, unidentified, ambiguously accountable, and largely anonymous federal agents have been terrorizing the activist community in Portland, Oregon, snatching protesters off the streets and throwing them into unmarked civilian vans as the social justice movement launched in the wake of George Floyd's killing by a Minneapolis police officer continues to embroil the city.
"I see guys in camo," protester Conner O’Shea told Oregon Public Broadcasting, describing the scene as his friend Mark Pettibone was detained by the assortment of federal officers. “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.'"
"I am basically tossed into the van," Pettibone added. “And I had my beanie pulled over my face so I couldn’t see and they held my hands over my head."
Videos of officers, clad head-to-toe in military fatigues with faces covered and no other identifiable markings visible, detaining and transporting protesters in unmarked minivans have been circulating online for the past several days. But it wasn't until Thursday evening that OPB was able to confirm federal officials' actions in Portland.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf described the protests in chillingly militarized terms. "The city of Portland has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city," Wolf stated. "Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it."
Wolf also visited Portland on Thursday, posting pictures on his Twitter account showing him speaking to unidentified federal agents during his trip.
In a statement released on Twitter, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) described the deployment of federal troops to Portland as "political theater" and claims she told Wolf to remove "all federal officers from our streets."
"His response showed me he is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes," Brown continued. "He is putting both Oregonians and local law enforcement officers in harm’s way.
According to OPB, the federal officers involved deployed in Portland include members of the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group, as well as Customs and Border Protection’s BORTAC (Border Patrol Tactical Unit) — CBP's SWAT equivalent, which had previously been deployed by the Trump administration to target sanctuary cities as part of the White House's anti-immigrant agenda.
Late last month, President Trump signed an executive order authorizing the use of federal agents for local law enforcement purposes, stating that:
Upon the request of the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or the Administrator of General Services, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall provide, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, personnel to assist with the protection of Federal monuments, memorials, statues, or property.
According to interviews conducted by OPB with some of those allegedly detained by federal officers in Portland, protesters have been reportedly taken despite having been nowhere near federal property and not engaging in criminal activity.
It remains to be seen how much longer, and how much more involved, the federal presence in Oregon will become. Does the presence of unmarked government agents abducting people off the streets in Portland signal that the Trump administration is considering additional deployments to other cities? Where seemingly anyone can be designate as an "anarchist" criminal, simply for protesting? Only time will tell.