GOP Senator Tom Cotton Compares Portland Black Lives Matter Protesters to the Confederacy

Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas compared Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland to the group that seceded from the Union in 1861 to form the Confederate States of America during an interview with Fox & Friends Tuesday morning.

The senator also compared the federal government's response to the protesters with that of President Abraham Lincoln's response to the Confederacy.

"These insurrectionists in the streets of Portland are little different from the insurrectionists who seceded from the Union in 1861 in South Carolina and tried to take over Fort Sumter," Cotton said. "Just like President Lincoln wouldn't stand for that, the federal government today cannot stand for the vandalism, the firebombing or any attacks on federal property."

Portland became a focal point for Black Lives Matter protests over the last week due to controversy surrounding the federal agents that President Donald Trump said on Monday were doing a "fantastic job" monitoring the city's demonstrations. Though the president voiced approval for the federal agents' efforts, lawmakers representing Portland and Oregon spoke out against the federal response and asked Trump to recall the agents, and the state's attorney general filed a lawsuit alleging federal agents detained protesters without identifying themselves and used unmarked vehicles to patrol Portland's streets.

Federal police in Portland
Federal police stand guard on Salmon Street after pushing protesters away from the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on July 21, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Nathan Howard/Getty

The escalations in Portland came after protests swept through the U.S. and around the world in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while in Minneapolis police custody on May 25. Local leaders across the country tried to find a balance between allowing protesters to gather and limiting the destruction caused by rioters when some of the demonstrations turned violent.

When protesters began targeting controversial statues and monuments—including those depicting Confederate soldiers, colonizers like Christopher Columbus and a handful of U.S. presidents with slave-owning pasts—Trump responded last month by defending the targeted monuments and threatening time behind bars for protesters who vandalized or removed them.

"It is right" for the federal government to step in when federal property is under attack, Cotton said. "The federal government has a responsibility to defend its installations and its property," he said.

Cotton described the situation in Portland as an "extreme case" and attributed the city's rising tensions to Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat whom Cotton described as a "radical left-wing mayor who's basically in league with the Defund the Police anarchists on the street."

Newsweek reached out to Wheeler's office for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Portland aside, Cotton said other cities were at risk of seeing protests escalate and said "of course" the federal government should step in if or when that happens.

On Monday, Trump suggested during a meeting at the White House that cities like Chicago and New York might also need federal assistance as protests continue. The president pointed specifically to those cities' "very liberal" leaders and said the cities themselves were "All run, really, by [the] radical left."

The U.S. needs politicians who will defend law enforcement and not allow protests to get out of hand, Cotton said.

"We need to have political leaders who will support our law enforcement professionals who are out defending the rights of protesters to peaceably assemble," the senator said. "But we also ought not to allow those protests to ever be hijacked by these kinds of organized, radical agitators who are using it for their own purposes," he said, pointing to a video taken of protesters in Chicago which he said demonstrated the protesters' attempts to "try to harm and even kill police officers."

Cotton reiterated the idea of the federal government's responsibility throughout his appearance on the Fox News show, saying it has an obligation to respond whenever citizens take action against federal property.

"That's what the people expect us to do," Cotton said. "That's what the Constitution calls for us to do."