A federal officer holding a canister of tear gas the evening of July 11.
A federal officer holding a canister of tear gas the evening of July 11. Mathieu Lewis-Rolland

The head of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the agency overseeing federal officers’ response to protests in Portland, chastised local officials Thursday for the city’s handling of nightly demonstrations.

In an inflammatory statement riddled with inaccuracies and spelling errors, Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf said Portland has been “under siege” by a “violent mob” of anarchists.

“Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it,” said Wolf. “Instead of addressing violent criminals in their communities, local and state leaders are instead focusing on placing blame on law enforcement and requesting fewer officers in their community.”

Wolf appears to be scolding Portland City Council for recently voting to slightly downsize the Portland Police Bureau (PPB)’s budget.

“This failed response has only emboldened the violent mob as it escalates violence day after day,” Wolf continued.

The statement, published on DHS’ webpage, is followed by a chronological list of alleged incidents that have taken place in Portland since protests against police brutality began in late May. The incomplete list dubs all protesters “violent anarchists,” regardless of the crowd size or their activity. The violence cited includes people graffitiing government buildings, shooting fireworks towards buildings, pointing lasers at officers, cutting a fence, throwing rocks, and publicly exposing the identities of federal officers.

Wolf did not mention that the majority of violence Portlanders have witnessed over the past 47 days has come from the hands of the police.

In the weeks since Donald Trump deployed DHS police to Portland to guard federal buildings, the city has seen a considerable escalation in violence against protesters by officers. On Sunday, a federal officer shot Portlander Donovan LaBella in the head with a “less lethal” munition, sending LaBella to the hospital for emergency facial reconstruction surgery. LaBella was standing with his hands in the air, holding a speaker over his head, when he was shot.

Federal police have also been witnessed shooting heavy clouds of tear gas into city parks, firing countless munitions at groups of people, and pinning down a person who appeared to be having a seizure. (DHS claims that this person “swallowed a large amount of narcotics” after being confronted by officers and “began to convulse”).

It’s not just federal officers inflicting violence on Portlanders. Despite weeks of alleged abuse from PPB officers cited in complaints to the city, in federal lawsuits, and in local media coverage, city police have continued to respond to protests with disproportionate violence. On Tuesday, a PPB officer was caught on film removing a protester’s protective face mask to pepper spray a protester in the eyes. This morning, the public witnessed a gaggle of PPB officers chase and tackle a person who was biking down SW 4th in downtown Portland—despite that street being open to public use.

This outsized use of force against the public is even included in DHS’ chronological list of “anarchist” attacks. On June 7, DHS notes, “Portland Police were forced to deploy crowd control spray [tear gas] to disperse a crowd that was throwing animal seed at officers.” (It’s assumed this is a reference to protesters who tossed handfuls of pig feed toward police, an incident tied to no injuries).

Wolf’s statement comes days after having a conversation with Mayor Ted Wheeler, in which Wheeler allegedly declined Wolf’s assistance in quelling the protests. In a tweet, Wheeler said that he instead told Wolf that the city does not “need or want their help.”

“The best thing [federal officers] can do is stay inside their building, or leave Portland altogether,” Wheeler continued. “Our goal is to end these violent demonstrations quickly and safely. And in the meantime, I asked him to clean up the graffiti on local federal facilities.”

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Wolf seemed to address that response in his Thursday morning statement, suggesting that his officers have no plans to leave town.

“This siege can end if state and local officials decide to take appropriate action instead of refusing to enforce the law,” Wolf said. “DHS will not abdicate its solemn duty to protect federal facilities and those within them. Again, I reiterate the Department’s offer to assist local and state leaders to bring an end to the violence perpetuated by anarchists.”

Wolf did not mention, however, if he plans on cleaning up the graffiti.

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