The Trump Administration Is Sending More Federal Officers to Portland

Federal police confront protesters in front of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in downtown Portland as the city experiences another night of unrest on July 26. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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The Trump administration is sending more federal officers to participate in its ongoing standoff–turned–proxy war with protesters outside the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in Portland, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Washington Post. Last week, the U.S. Marshals Service decided to send an additional 100 deputy marshals to the city, and the Department of Homeland Security is reportedly considering a plan to send an additional 50 U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents as well. It is not clear how many of the agents are intended to relieve the existing federal force at the courthouse and how many are intended to reinforce them. Some of the U.S. Marshals began arriving last Thursday, but additional officers are reportedly “being pulled from the ranks of deputy marshals who rarely have training in riot response or crowd control, according to law enforcement officials.” If so, they’ll have their work cut out for them, since protesters have themselves been adapting to the federal agents’ military tactics, as OPB noted Sunday:

Some of those protesters are taking what they learned facing similar tactics from Portland police and continuing to hone them in their resistance to federal force, too. They’ve devised ways to counter rubber bullets, tear gas and a reinforced fence around the federal courthouse. Their tactics resemble those of Hong Kong protesters in 2019, with many people wearing gas masks, carrying shields or umbrellas, and even using leaf blowers to turn tear gas back toward law enforcement.

114 federal agents were manning the courthouse in mid-July. Now as many as 150 may soon be joining them.

As Intelligencer’s Eric Levitz has explained, the administration’s efforts to quell the protests in the city have been a spectacular and very public failure — prompting larger numbers of protesters to hit the streets, not only in Portland but in other cities like Seattle over the weekend, and leading to more violence on both sides outside the courthouse in Portland instead of less. Efforts to suppress the unrest, in other words, have only made it harder and more dangerous to control — let alone the fact that state and local officials have repeatedly asked the federal government to lay off. Furthermore, the only supposed benefit of fomenting more unrest — imagery of more unrest that can be spun to inflame the culture war and paradoxically boost Trump’s self-proclamation that he is the law-and-order candidate in the upcoming election — isn’t panning out very well either, according to opinion polls thus far.

This has all apparently dawned on administration officials, as well, per the Post:

As the nightly street battles in Portland have gotten more attention, they have triggered internal investigations into the conduct of federal agencies like the Marshals Service and CBP. Some federal law enforcement officials worry that agents in Portland may be losing control of the streets around the federal courthouse and losing the public debate over their handling of the unrest, according to three people familiar with the internal conversations who were not authorized to discuss them with reporters.

There is growing concern among federal law enforcement officials that some individuals in the crowds outside the courthouse have gotten more aggressive in recent days, and the number of federal agents on site may not be sufficient to handle them. Protesters have injured federal agents with large commercial-grade fireworks while others aimed lasers at their eyes, leading to several injuries, DHS officials said.

So the Trump administration’s plan for extinguishing the growing fire it helped fuel in Portland is to add more fuel — and maybe more and better fencing, since federal officials are also reportedly discussing the possibility of adding a second fence, so there is some kind of buffer zone where federal agents would somehow be able to prevent protesters from bringing in shields, gas masks, or fireworks. It’s not clear how serious that plan is, since officers would then presumably have to defend two fences instead of just one in that scenario. At the same time, the administration is continuing to try to make its case for how fearsome the protesters are, which on Monday included referring to shields and other items protesters have been bringing to the nightly confrontations as “contraband”:

The other problem the administration has created for itself is that among the additional protesters being drawn to the courthouse every night have been a “Wall of Moms” and a “Wall of Vets” — peaceful protesters who not only don’t make for good tear-gas cannon fodder when it comes to framing demonstrators as lawless extremists, but some have been injured and have now become new plaintiffs against the Trump administration:

This post has been updated to incorporate OPB’s report on Sunday.

Trump Administration Sends More Federal Officers to Portland