Federal agents are venturing blocks from the buildings they were sent to protect. Oregon officials say they are illegally taking on the role of riot police.
PORTLAND, Ore. — After flooding the streets around the federal courthouse in Portland with tear gas during Friday’s early morning hours, dozens of federal officers in camouflage and tactical gear stood in formation around the front of the building.
Then, as one protester blared a soundtrack of “The Imperial March,” the officers started advancing. Through the acrid haze, they continued to fire flash grenades and welt-inducing marble-size balls filled with caustic chemicals. They moved down Main Street and continued up the hill, where one of the agents announced over a loudspeaker: “This is an unlawful assembly.”
By the time the security forces halted their advance, the federal courthouse they had been sent to protect was out of sight — two blocks behind them.
The aggressive incursion of federal officers into Portland has been stretching the legal limits of federal law enforcement, as agents with batons and riot gear range deep into the streets of a city whose leadership has made it clear they are not welcome.
“I think it’s absolutely improper,” Oregon’s attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, said in an interview on Friday. “It’s absolutely beyond their authority.”
The state lost its bid on Friday for a restraining order against four federal agencies on the grounds that the state attorney general lacked standing, but several other challenges are still making their way through the courts.
Federal officers who arrived this month to help control protests over racial injustice and police violence have made dozens of arrests for federal crimes, including assaults on federal officers and failing to comply with law enforcement commands. More than 40 protesters have been arrested, and dozens now face federal criminal charges.
One protester standing on a city street outside the federal courthouse was shot in the head with a crowd-control munition, leaving a bloody scene and a serious facial injury that required surgery. In another incident, an officer was seen repeatedly using a baton to whack a Navy veteran who said he had come to speak to the agents. Videos taken by members of the public captured camouflaged personnel pulling protesters into unmarked vans.