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Mathieu Lewis-Rolland

Federal agents have arrested 83 protesters outside the Mark Hatfield Federal Courthouse in downtown Portland this month, with 23 arrests occurring since Saturday. And they may just be getting started.

Since arriving earlier this month, federal officers from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Protective Service (FPS), and the US Marshals Service have indiscriminately tear gassed thousands of mostly non-violent protesters, legal observers, and journalists, and severely wounded people with impact munitions. But in a Monday press call with federal law enforcement leaders, US Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams didn’t address the actions of federal troops on the press call; rather, he said that protesters—not federal agents—were “absolutely destroying the soul of our city.”

“Nightly violence directed at the federal courthouse and other justice facilities does nothing but hijack peaceful protesters’ original message,” Williams said. “It is criminal, and it has to stop.”

Williams, along with FPS Principal Deputy Director Kris Cline and Peter Cajigal of the U.S. Marshals Service, told reporters they have no plans to withdraw troops until protests outside the federal courthouse dies down. Furthering talking points from the Trump administration, Williams said that “this lawlessness must stop,” and called the protests a “nightly cycle of assaults on federal officers.”

Williams advised Portland faith leaders, businesses, and other “concerned citizens” to “join together and ask that this violence comes to an end. That’s where the solution comes from, in my view.”

He also offered some more blunt advice to people who want to see federal officers leave town: “Leave downtown before the violence starts. Do not be a part of it, and encourage others to reject this mindless violence.”

While Williams spoke extensively about the “violence” on the part of protesters, he declined to clearly answer a question about recent reports that the Trump administration is sending in an additional 150 troops to police the crowds outside federal courthouse.

A KGW reporter asked Williams about recent remarks made by Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf on Fox News over the weekend. Wolf said that the Department of Justice and FBI were “going to have additional actions probably as early as this week,” and planned to directly target organizers of the protests.

“We’re not going to address that,” Williams said when asked to elaborate on Wolf’s quotes.

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Williams was also asked about whether the federal government would be more effective in quelling the protests if it had cooperation from local elected officials. Mayor Ted Wheeler has publicly denounced the presence of federal troops, and said he would decline to meet with Wolf if invited. However, Williams said he is still in contact with Wheeler’s office.

“I have always had very good communications with the mayor’s office and their public safety advisor,” Williams said. “I continue to have that line of communication. And at this point, that’s all I’m going to say about that. I have not talked with any of the members of City Council.”

Protests outside the federal courthouse are expected to continue Monday evening.