Federal Agents Retreat To Portland Base As Protesters Control Streets

| Resist!

Donald Trump’s shadowy police task force has given new life to protests and may not be succeeding in PR terms either.

Night upon night, the chant goes up in front of Portland’s federal courthouse: “Whose streets?”

The answer depends on the hour of the day. After Donald Trump sent federal agents to take control of a city he said had been abandoned by its mayor to anarchists and mob rule, the protesters still turning out in support of Black Lives Matter can make a legitimate claim that these are, as the chant goes, “our streets”.

Department of Homeland Security taskforce agents were again out firing waves of teargas and throwing stun grenades against a hard core of a few hundred demonstrators in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The confrontation centered on the courthouse at the heart of several blocks of downtown Portland that have effectively fallen under the control of the protesters after the city police withdrew.

But after pushing back demonstrators, many of them kitted out in helmets and gas masks, the federal agents retreated into their courthouse citadel to mocking jeers and women who were part of the “Wall of Moms” protest linking arms and chanting: “Our streets.”

This ritual was played out three times on Wednesday morning, but the end result was the same as every other night. The DHS officers dispatched by the president to put down the demonstrations have instead become prisoners of the building they are ostensibly there to defend.

“The feds don’t have control of the streets,” said a woman holding a sign “100% not a terrorist”, who gave her name only as Shannon. “I think they’re more scared than us. They’re hiding in there. They don’t know what they’re doing.”

On Monday, the president declared the deployment of the DHS taskforce a success.
“In Portland, they’ve done a fantastic job. They’ve been there three days, and they really have done a fantastic job in a very short period of time,” he said.

The view from Portland’s streets tells a different story.

The arrival of the federal officers, drawn from several agencies including the US Marshals Service and the border patrol, fleetingly sent a wave of alarm through the demonstrators after men in camouflage began snatching people off the streets in unmarked vans.

Those detained said they were dragged into the courthouse without being told why they were being arrested or by whom and then suddenly let go without any official record of being held. It smacked of police state tactics. So did some of the violence meted out by federal agents who looked more like an occupying army in a war zone.

But if the intent was to intimidate the protesters into abandoning the few square blocks of downtown Portland under their control, it backfired spectacularly.

Residents of a city with a long history of radical street protest were outraged at the tactics which suddenly revitalized a protest movement that was waning after more than 50 nights of demonstrations.

It is now the federal agents who appear under siege, reduced to defending the courthouse from attempts to break in or set it on fire. In a visible surrender of ground, the DHS taskforce has even abandoned bothering to re-erect a fence around the federal building torn down on Saturday night.

Meanwhile, the protesters range free over several city blocks where businesses were first shut down by coronavirus and then boarded up after some shops were smashed in the initial protests that swept the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

The ubiquitous graffiti on stores, the county jail and the courthouse – including portraits of Floyd and violent denunciations of the police – mark out the protesters’ territory.

If Trump’s intent was to calm things down, he has failed. But if, as some suspect, the president wanted to ratchet up confrontation for political gain, then it is not clear that it has been a success either.

“It’s a power play by Trump. He thinks he’s going to get his base all riled up by pitting the forces of law and order against the anarchists,” said Josh O’Brien, who travelled from Seattle to join the protests. “But he’s fucked it up like he fucks everything up. Look who’s here with us. Grandmothers. Doctors. Because like most Americans they don’t think people should be abducted from the streets by the president’s secret police.”

The video of unidentifiable agents bundling Americans into unmarked vans may indeed not play well with some of Trump’s rightwing supporters for whom incidents such as the FBI’s killing of a woman and her teenage son during the 1992 siege at Ruby Ridge have come to represent what they see as an authoritarian federal government.

While the federal agents play out their nightly ritual, the city’s police are visibly absent. Although the Portland police bureau headquarters is in the building next to the federal courthouse, its officers appear to have abandoned any attempt to police the demonstrations after the mayor, who serves as police commissioner, sided with the protesters against the president. On top of that a court order limited the city police’s use of teargas and other means of restraint.

That has, in the eyes of some of the demonstrators, created a “liberated territory” similar to the “autonomous zone” in Seattle until it was cleared earlier this month.

The federal court and neighboring county jail are opposite two parks that serve as the demonstrators’ base, and where a food stand has come to symbolize the endurance of the protests. Riot Ribs dispenses sustenance, including a vegetarian option, free to demonstrators. Members of the collective preparing the food have been targeted by federal agents charging out of the courthouse but have returned to cooking after each encounter.

  • jim james

    The good people of Portland should burn the federal courthouse to the ground and any federal property they spy.

  • pajarito

    Occupy and blockade the federal property and liberate it for the people to use – don’t destroy it. Non-violence is the way to victory over state violence, violence against state violence is futile. We know this from Gandhi, MLK and others who proved this time after time. We must retain the moral high ground, the source of our strength against violent, corrupt state repression. During Vietnam, when Nixon bombed Cambodia, people all over the country surrounded federal buildings en mass.

  • Edward Winslow

    The US war machine has been getting their asses kicked in their imperialist adventures for 70 years. Now these goons dressed up in Halloween costumes of the US military are sent fleeing from a bunch of protesters . The illegitimate government of the US plutocracy is the world’s laughing stock.

  • SupernaturalCat

    Well…. yes and no.

    Given America’s (formerly) “friendly fascism” status, the corporate entities sending the military ’round the world to “spread freedumb & democracy capitalism” never unleash the full murderous power of the US military machine as a form of damage control, and this restraint is in place to give the appearance of the US not being the brutal aggressor it is.

    The same goes for the domestic aim of the corporate state beating back civil disobedience …if they did what those entities salivate over the prospect of doing – which would be to simply gun down, beat and gas to death throngs of unarmed citizens in order to teach those pinko commie hippies a lesson! – then the statesman elements of the US reveal their true colors to the world (which, as the perimeters narrow, they’ve been doing incrementally within the “post 911 world”) and then US elites can no longer play the “freedom & democracy” card via state rhetoric if the world is watching images of US stormtroopers engaged in mass murder of innocent civilians. This is why they made such a stink about the WikiLeaks “collateral Murder” video, as it demonstrates the true nature, mindset and motives of the corporate state to the watching world.

    So, it’s not that these goons are unable to thwart civil disobedience, it’s that their masters haven’t yet relinquished their grip on the leash for fear of creating major blowback on all fronts …that can and unfortunately will eventually happen, but only in keeping with their masters’ strategic planning and timing for it.

  • Selina

    Oh, sure, a huge conflagration will solve everything. Your fantasy mirrors your rage. How about your painting that scene as many times as it takes for the rage inside you to shift to a more creative possibility. Acting it out is to throw the baby out with the bath. The “baby” being generative possibility. The mere increase of peaceful Portland women and men in protest asserts the undeniable Power of Peaceful Presence that propagates more adherents to the cause and demonstrably the withdrawal of its opponents, the so-called in-Security Force. Your rage (processed and transformed internally) and the creative peaceful actions of the population are evidence of awakenings to the Good.

  • Nylene13

    How about just take away their guns and their pants-and send them all home?
    If We the People were organized enough, we could do that.

    Should do the same thing to the Senate for down-voting Bernie’s bill to cut just 10 percent of the Pentagon money -to give to We the People.

    Democrats and Republicans BOTH voted down that bill.

    They should be sent home without their pants too.

  • tttbnr

    The Portland moms defeated Trump’s plan to create national support for harsh treatment of the protesters. Many Americans take delight in police violence against perceived law breakers, but even though Portland’s youth are a collection of latter day hippies and anarchists they are, for the most part, children of the middle class. Sending federal troops to Portland backfired just like when Ohio sent the National Guard to Kent St. Thankfully the moms prevented the feds from using deadly force by putting them in a double bind. That is a tactic everyone who opposes the security state should learn.

  • Edward Winslow

    Don’t forget the Dads bringing their effective “less than lethal” weapon of mass yard cleanup, the dreaded leafblower. 😉

  • RickW

    Charlton Heston: “I’ll give you my gun when you pry (or take) it from my cold, dead hands”