Since July 14, unidentified federal agents dressed in camouflage have been detaining protesters in Portland, Oregon, placing them in unmarked vans, and driving away. According to protesters and video footage of the events, the agents refuse to disclose their names or the organizations they are affiliated with. When demanding to know why they are being arrested, the protesters have received no response.
One protester, Mark Pettibone, described being detained in this manner, searched, and taken to a federal courthouse, where he was read his Miranda rights. Pettibone was then released without explanation and seemingly no record of his arrest. The U.S. Marshals Service has denied arresting Pettibone and has not commented on the usage of unmarked vans.
The actions seem to be a new tactic utilized by federal agents to dispel the Portland protests, which have been ongoing since May 29 in response to the death of George Floyd. The protests have remained relatively peaceful. However, in response, President Trump has sent agents from the U.S. Marshals, the Federal Protective Service, U. S. Customs and Border Protection, and Homeland Security Investigations in order to “quell” the protests. These agents are authorized to use crowd-control techniques, such as tear gas and rubber bullets, which Portland police cannot use unless the lives of people are in danger. President Trump had called the city “totally out of control” and commended the agents for doing “a great job in Portland.”
“I guess we have many people right now in jail, and we very much quelled it. And if it starts again we’ll quell it again very easily. It’s not hard to do if you know what you’re doing,” Trump stated at a news conference. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf has called the protesters “lawless anarchists” and a “violent mob.”
The presence of these agents has been criticized by Oregon leaders, especially after agents fired a less-than-lethal munition at a protester, fracturing his skull. Oregon Governor Kate Brown (D) has called the federal agents’ actions “political theater from President Trump” which has “nothing to do with public safety.” She called the agents’ deployment “a blatant abuse of power by the federal government” and argued that Acting Secretary Wolf was “on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes.” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D) tweeted “we do not need or want their help,” in response to the agents’ arrival.
The interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, Jann Carson, commented that the agents’ actions are “flat-out unconstitutional.” “Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street, we call it kidnapping,” stated Carson. “Protesters in Portland have been shot in the head, swept away in unmarked cars, and repeatedly tear-gassed by uninvited and unwelcome federal agents. We won’t rest until they are gone.”
Sources: Daily Beast 7/17/20; USA Today 7/17/20; KGW, KGW 7/13/20; Department of Homeland Security 7/16/20; Washington Post 7/13/20; KATU 7/16/20; the Oregonian 7/16/20; Washington Post 7/17/20