Top U.S. Homeland Security officials say they have no intention of pulling back in Portland, Ore., and defended the federal crackdown on anti-racism protests in the country, including the use of unmarked cars and unidentified officers in camouflage.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent law enforcement units to Portland to back up the Federal Protective Service responsible for guarding government facilities after receiving intelligence about planned attacks around July 4, the DHS officials said.
“DHS is not going to back down from our responsibilities. We are not escalating, we are protecting,” Chad Wolf, acting secretary of Homeland Security, told Fox News.
President Donald Trump condemned protests in Portland and violence in other “Democrat-run” cities on Sunday as his administration moves to intervene in urban centres he said have lost control of demonstrations. Protests began across the country after the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in Minneapolis in late May.
Last week, federal officers started cracking down on crowds, using tear gas to disperse protesters and taking some into custody in unmarked cars.
Officers without clear identification
On Monday morning, Portland Police provided details on another tense night between protesters and federal law enforcement in the city, saying federal agents used tear gas to disperse a crowd that had gathered outside a federal courthouse downtown.
Wolf said federal law enforcement was doing its job.
“We’re not going to apologize for it,” he said. “We’re going to do it professionally and do it correctly.”
The clampdown in Portland has drawn widespread criticism and legal challenges as videos surfaced of officers without clear identification badges using force and unmarked vehicles to arrest protesters without explanation.
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deputy secretary, said the federal officers wore the same uniforms every day and the crowds knew who they were. He also defended the use of unmarked cars as routine.
“Unmarked police vehicles are so common it’s barely worth discussion,” he told CNN.
Cuccinelli said if federal authorities receive the same kind of intelligence threat in other places, they would respond the same way.
“It’s really as simple as that,” he said.
Democrats demand answers
On Sunday, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives demanded internal investigations into whether the Justice and Homeland Security departments “abused emergency authorities” in handling the Portland protests.
Portland’s mayor called the intervention an abuse of federal power and said it was escalating the violence. Oregon’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against the federal agencies, saying they had seized and detained people without probable cause.
Cuccinelli dismissed local leaders’ calls to leave the city.
“We will maintain our presence,” he said.