Feds Have Arrested Nearly 100 People in Portland, DHS Chief Says

Federal officers deployed to Portland, Oregon, in response to unrest in the wake of George Floyd's death have arrested nearly 100 people since they first arrived in the city over the July 4th weekend, Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf said on Wednesday.

Speaking with reporters in a press call announcing a new agreement struck between the DHS and Oregon State Gov. Kate Brown to collaborate on the response to unrest, Wolf said at least 94 people had so far been arrested by federal officers in the city.

Since late May, days after Floyd died after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest, Wolf noted, there have been protests in Portland, with some being peaceful demonstrations and others being marked by what Wolf branded "violent activity."

Federal officers, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection agents, were initially deployed to Portland over the July 4th weekend in response to the unrest in a proclaimed bid to protect federal property and specifically, the Mark Hatfield United States Courthouse, "from criminal acts of violence and vandalism."

Since then they have faced scrutiny over their treatment of demonstrators, with officers being accused of using excessive force and worrying tactics, including refusing to wear name badges and forcing demonstrators into unmarked vehicles.

During the press call on Wednesday, Wolf sought to draw a distinction between peaceful protesters and those targeting the federal courthouse and clashing with federal law enforcement.

"While we have seen non-violent protests, violent activity is not associated with these protests," Wolf said. "I want to be clear about this fact."

While the DHS chief said his agency continues to "support and defend every Americans' right to exercise the First Amendment," he said there "continues to be significant violence taking place in Portland" every day.

Calling the federal courthouse the "seat of justice for Portland," Wolf said federal officers have sought to protect the property while demonstrators have attacked it with Molotov cocktails and IEDs, or improvised explosive devices.

Meanwhile, federal officers have shot demonstrators with "less lethal" munitions and used tear gas and other shows of force to disperse crowds and arrest demonstrators.

During the press call, Wolf said that 245 law enforcement personnel had been injured due to encounters with demonstrators, with some being "seriously injured," including "several who may have permanent eye damage" from having lasers shot into their eyes.

It is unclear how many demonstrators have been injured in the clashes.

During the call, the DHS acting secretary appeared to counter Brown's claim that the agreement between her office and Homeland Security would see the Trump administration start to pull federal officers out of Portland.

In a statement published online, Brown said the federal government had "agreed to a phased withdrawal of federal officers"from the area starting on Thursday as part of an agreement to have Oregon State Police gradually assume the role of protecting federal property.

After my discussions with VP Pence and others, the federal government has agreed to withdraw federal officers from Portland. They have acted as an occupying force & brought violence. Starting tomorrow, all Customs and Border Protection & ICE officers will leave downtown Portland.

— Governor Kate Brown (@OregonGovBrown) July 29, 2020

Wolf refuted that claim, saying that there was no agreement for federal officers to start leaving the area starting Thursday.

Federal officers, the DHS chief said, would only start to withdraw once they were certain that the federal courthouse would not be at risk of nightly attacks and once they were assured that Oregon State Police would be capable of protecting the building.

Asked repeatedly to address the discrepancy between his and Brown's statements, Wolf said he had not read all of Brown's statement.

Wolf made clear that federal officers would not be withdrawing from Portland until they decided it was appropriate to do so.

On Oregon's decision to collaborate with the DHS, Wolf said he was glad Brown and other officials had "finally seen the errors of their ways."

Newsweek has contacted Brown's office for comment.

Portland clashes
A federal officer pepper sprays a protester in front of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on July 20, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Nathan Howard/Getty

Editor's Picks

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts