The White House is defending use of federal officers at protests in Oregon’s largest city, citing a US code that allows the Department of Homeland Security to deputize officers in other agencies to protect federal property.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany started Tuesday’s briefing to reporters by insisting that, “by any objective standard, the violence, chaos and anarchy in Portland is unacceptable.”
The use of federal agents in Portland has been hailed by President Donald Trump but were done without local consent. The standoff could escalate there and elsewhere as Trump says he plans to send federal agents to other cities, too, potentially setting off a constitutional crisis.
“We are surging resources, along with Secretary Wolf at DHS and augmenting the Federal Protective Service to safeguard federal property,” McEnany said. “The bottom line is that this president stands with law and order, which leads to peace. And we will not allow Portland to become the new CHOP (Capital Hill Organized Protest) like what we saw in Seattle.”
In Portland, demonstrators who have been on the streets for weeks have found renewed focus in clashes with camouflaged, unidentified agents outside the city’s U.S. courthouse. Protesters crowded in front of the courthouse and the Justice Center late Monday night, before authorities cleared them out as the loud sound and light of flash bang grenades filled the sky.
State and local authorities, who didn’t ask for federal help, are awaiting a ruling in a lawsuit filed late last week. State Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in court papers that masked federal officers have arrested people on the street, far from the courthouse, with no probable cause and whisked them away in unmarked cars.
Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security was planning to deploy about 150 of its agents to Chicago, according to an official with direct knowledge of the plans who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The agents are expected to stay for at least two months and could be sent to other locations at some point, the official said. Homeland Security said in a statement that the department does not comment on “allegedly leaked operations.”
As Oregon officials have, Chicago’s mayor has pushed back against the deployment of federal agents.
The tussle comes about two weeks ago after the Trump administration sent more than 100 federal law enforcement officers to Kansas City to help quell a rise in violence after the shooting death of a young boy there.
Constitutional law experts said federal officers’ actions in the progressive city are a “red flag” in what could become a test case of states’ rights as the Trump administration expands federal policing.
The protests have roiled Portland for more than seven weeks. Many rallies have attracted thousands and been largely peaceful. But smaller groups of up to several hundred people have focused on federal property and local law enforcement buildings, at times setting fires to police precincts, smashing windows and clashing violently with local police.
Portland police used tear gas on multiple occasions until a federal court order banned its officers from doing so without declaring a riot. Now, concern is growing that the tear gas is being used against demonstrators by federal officers instead.
On Sunday night, a crowd estimated at more than 500 people gathered outside the courthouse, including dozens of self-described “moms” who linked arms in front of a chain-link fence outside the courthouse. The demonstration continued into Monday morning.
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