On the White House south lawn on Wednesday morning, President Trump told reporters he anticipated that Department of Homeland Security agents and U.S. Marshals deployed in Portland would be there for the long haul, despite reporting suggesting otherwise. “You hear all sorts of reports about us leaving,” Trump said. “We’re not leaving until they’ve secured their city. We told the governor. We told the mayor. Secure your city. If they don’t secure their city soon, we have no choice. We’re going to have to go in and clean it out.”
Trump, apparently, had not told the governor: Hours later, Oregon’s Kate Brown announced that the militarized officials will begin a “phased withdrawal” after weeks of highly publicized clashes with demonstrators. According to the agreement between the governor and DHS, Oregon State Police will now provide security outside Portland’s federal courthouse, where the agents were placed after Trump issued an executive order in late June to use federal law enforcement to protect federal property. Governor Brown stated that some of the law enforcement figures will withdraw within the next 24 hours, though Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf noted that the “entire DHS law enforcement presence in Portland will remain in Portland” on standby. The New York Times provided more detail of the plan, which requires federal agents “to stay inside a fence set up around the courthouse, along with some state police,” with state police outside the perimeter. With federal officials removed from the front lines —but still on-site — at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse where the bulk of the conflict and arrests have taken place, the first phase of the withdrawal appears to be more of a deescalation.
As officers in combat fatigues detained Americans in unmarked vans over the past few weeks, the ranks of protesters surged, furious that city residents would be treated as an insurgency rather than as a group of mostly peaceful demonstrators against police brutality and systemic racism. As a former DHS official told the New York Times, the law enforcement officers have “become the story,” adding that “the protests are feeding off their presence.”
After close to a month on the ground in the Oregon capital, it’s unclear what the administration gained by sending in the agents, who were reportedly in town to create “viral online content” for Trump’s law-and-order reelection message. But the effort appears to have backfired: In a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted during the feds’ deployment asking which candidates were preferred on “crime and safety,” voters chose Biden over Trump in a 50 percent to 41 percent split.