Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday announced there was an agreement to begin withdrawing federal officers from Portland, but a top Trump official said there would still be an “augmented” force present in the city.
Brown, a Democrat, said the agreement, which goes into effect on Thursday, was struck after discussions with Vice President Mike Pence and other officials.
“After my discussions with VP Pence and others, the federal government has agreed to withdraw federal officers from Portland,” Brown tweeted. “They have acted as an occupying force & brought violence. Starting tomorrow, all Customs and Border Protection & ICE officers will leave downtown Portland.
“Our local Oregon State Police officers will be downtown to protect Oregonians’ right to free speech and keep the peace,” she added. “Let’s center the Black Lives Matter movement’s demands for racial justice and police accountability. It’s time for bold action to reform police practices.”
Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security, confirmed there was a tentative agreement in place to withdraw federal forces — if the situation on the ground improves.
“Over the past 24 hours, Governor Brown and I have been in regular communication and have agreed to a joint plan to end the violent activity in Portland directed at federal properties and law enforcement,” Wolf said in a statement. “That plan includes a robust presence of Oregon State Police in downtown Portland. State and local law enforcement will begin securing properties and streets, especially those surrounding federal properties, that have been under nightly attack for the past two months.”
But Wolf also said his department will “continue to maintain our current, augmented federal law enforcement personnel in Portland until we are assured that the Hatfield Federal Courthouse and other federal properties will no longer be attacked and that the seat of justice in Portland will remain secure.”
In addition to CBP and ICE, the administration had also sent officers from the U.S. Marshals Service and the Federal Protective Service to Oregon’s largest city.
Shortly before the agreement was announced, President Trump told reporters that any reports of a withdrawal were premature.
“You hear all sorts of reports about us leaving,” Trump said on the South Lawn of the White House. “We’re not leaving until they’ve secured their city. We told the governor, we told the mayor: ‘Secure your city.’ If they don’t secure their city soon, we have no choice — we’re going to have to go in and clean it out. We’ll do it very easily. We’re all prepared to do it.
“They either clean out their city and do the job and get rid of the anarchists and agitators, which is what they are,” he added. “They’re not protesters; they’re anarchists and agitators. We have many in jail. Many of them have been put in jail. It’s going to be a long sentence. They either clean out their city and do it right, or we’re going to have to do it for them.”
Trump later tweeted that if local authorities didn’t stop Portland from being “burned and beaten to the ground” then “the Federal Government will go in and do the job that local law enforcement was supposed to do!”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler had joined mayors of five other U.S. cities in calling on Congress to “make it illegal for the federal government to deploy militarized federal agents to cities that don’t want them.” The administration has begun the process of sending federal officers to other cities, with the legal options available to officials who want to push back still murky.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced it also would be sending federal law enforcement agents to Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee.
Federal officers arrived in Portland earlier this month under the direction of Wolf, who said that local authorities were not doing enough to protect the federal courthouse there, citing “violent anarchists” responsible for graffiti, broken windows and setting fires in the area, along with other infractions.
“A federal courthouse is a symbol of justice — to attack it is to attack America. Instead of addressing violent criminals in their communities, local and state leaders are instead focusing on placing blame on law enforcement and requesting fewer officers in their community,” Wolf said in a statement after visiting the city. “This failed response has only emboldened the violent mob as it escalates violence day after day.”
The Washington Post reported last week that the White House has long wanted to showcase violence in cities, with one official saying the deployment “was about getting viral online content.”
Attention was drawn to the city when an investigation by Oregon Public Broadcasting found that protesters were being pulled into unmarked vans by officers wearing quasi-military attire. Protests grew after video of the non-arrests went viral, with federal officials using tear gas and so-called “less lethal” munition rounds on protesters. At least one protester, who was holding a speaker over his head, had his skull fractured by federal officers. The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon is asking a judge to hold the officers who fired at journalists and legal observers in contempt.
The protests were down to 100 to 200 people nightly prior to the escalation of the federal presence, which drew in crowds of thousands, including groups of moms, dads and veterans. Another viral video showed federal officers attacking 53-year-old Naval Academy graduate Christopher David, breaking his hand with baton strikes as he asked, “Why are you not honoring your oath? Why are you not honoring your oath to the Constitution?”
During his first visit to the protests, Wheeler was caught in tear gas fired by officers and was the recipient of boos and heckles from the assembled protesters who don’t think he’s done enough to rein in police there. The mayor has faced scrutiny for what many critics said was coordination between local police and the federal officers despite a city resolution banning any communication between the two groups.
Two former Republican leaders of the Department of Homeland Security have criticized Trump’s deployment of DHS officers to American cities.
“The department was established to protect America from the ever-present threat of global terrorism. It was not established to be the president’s personal militia,” Tom Ridge, the DHS’s inaugural chief, said during an interview with Sirius XM host Michael Smerconish. Michael Chertoff, who succeeded Ridge during George W. Bush’s second term, told the Washington Post that Trump’s plan is “unsettling” and damaging to the department.
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