Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf on Tuesday pushed back against criticism over the agency’s response to rioting in Portland, promising that federal law enforcement “will not retreat” from the city and telling rioters to “find another line of work.”
“If you are a violent rioter looking to inflict damage on federal property or law enforcement officers, you need to find another line of work,” Wolf said at a press conference. “We will not retreat, we will continue to protect our facilities and our law enforcement officers.”
Portland has been hit by riots and protests for 52 days in the wake of George Floyd in Minneapolis. This month, in response to ongoing violence against federal property and monuments, DHS deployed federal law enforcement to the city.
Federal officers have reportedly been attacked, doxxed and injured by rioters, with DHS officials saying weapons including hammers, fireworks and fecal matter have been used against law enforcement. Meanwhile, there have been multiple attempts to damage the Hatfield Courthouse.
But there have been instances and reports of federal officers arresting those suspected of criminal activity, and putting them into unmarked cars. It has led to outrage from Democrats and even some Republicans — who have accused law enforcement of heavy handedness and illegal activity.
“Unidentified stormtroopers. Unmarked cars. Kidnapping protesters and causing severe injuries in response to graffiti.,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted on Friday. “These are not the actions of a democratic republic. @DHSgov’s actions in Portland undermine its mission. Trump & his stormtroopers must be stopped.”
The state’s Democratic congressional lawmakers — Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici — last week asked both DHS and Justice Dept. offices of Inspector General to investigate the “unrequested presence and violent actions of federal forces in Portland.”
“DHS and DOJ are engaged in acts that are horrific and outrageous in our constitutional democratic republic,” Merkley said in a statement. “First, they are deploying paramilitary forces with no identification indicating who they are or who they work for. Second, these agents are snatching people off the street with no underlying justification. Both of these acts are profound offenses against Americans.”
DHS officials on Tuesday reiterated that their mission was to protect federal property, and officers were not roaming the streets, although they did not rule out going after those who attacked the courthouse and then left federal property.
But they pushed back on the widely reported claim that officers were unidentified, posting images that showed that officers had the appropriate police and agency insignia. Federal Protective Service Deputy Director of Operations Richard Cline told reporters that, to avoid the risk of doxxing, officers’ names had been replaced with badge numbers as about 38 officers had had their personal information put online.
Wolf noted that he spoke to Mayor Ted Wheeler, who had then tweeted out the details of the conversation, including his demand that federal agents both leave and clean up graffiti on the courthouse — but Wolf added that Wheeler has his phone number if he wanted to talk.
Wolf was particularly critical of Wheeler and highlighted that violence had been going on for over a month before federal authorities arrived in Portland to dispute the claim that it was the feds responsible for the violence.
“He would have you believe that enforcing federal law incites violence, he would have you believe that holding criminals accountable incites violence,” he said, before urging local officials to “step up” to protect their communities.
Meanwhile, acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan described such language used by Pelosi and others describing police as “stormstroopers” as “offensive.”
“It is offensive, offensive to refer to these dedicated men and women that are out there, law enforcement professionals, to make that reference,” he said. “It’s disgusting and it’s also a lie.”
He also recommitted that, while law enforcement were protecting federal property, it was clear that law enforcement would leave the property to go after someone suspected of criminal activity.
“Of course we’re going to arrest you, we have the authority. to make that arrest and we will continue to do that,” he said.