Why Are Federal Agents In Portland?

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In recent days, the Trump administration has come under extensive fire for sending federal agents in unmarked vehicles to peaceful protests in Portland, Oregon, where camouflaged, ID-less agents have attacked protesters with tear gas and swept them off the street into unmarked vehicles. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, who has overseen the federal agents in Portland, has defended the agents’ presence as necessary to “restore order.” Government officials throughout the city, state, and nation have lambasted the federal presence in Portland.

On July 17, Oregon’s two U.S. Senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, co-wrote a letter with two of Oregon’s national Representatives, Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici, in which the four Congresspeople demanded that DHS withdraw its “paramilitary” agents from not just Portland, but anywhere in the state. Portland mayor Ted Wheeler has also called for federal officers to leave, but in a recent interview, he said that Wolf has been uncooperative. Oregon Governor Kate Brown has spoken directly to Wolf and asked him to withdraw federal agents from Portland, and both she and Wheeler have alleged that federal involvement in these nonviolent protests has made the protests more severe.

Brown has also alleged that the deployment of federal agents to Portland is a move by President Trump to shore up support with his voter base. Many other people have agreed with Brown’s assessment and said that Trump has sent federal agents to Portland not to ensure public safety, but to show his supporters that he is a “law and order” president who is so tough on crime that he will defy the Constitution to uphold the law. Additionally, as federal agents have descended on Portland, Trump has released campaign ads alleging that a Biden presidency will lead to an increase in dangerous suburban crime, and some say that Trump is using these two tactics in tandem to drive fear among his voters.

Trump has also suggested that he may deploy federal agents to other cities as he has done in Portland. On Monday, while claiming that the federal agents in Portland have “done a fantastic job,” Trump implied that he may send additional federal officers to New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, and Oakland. Trump decried the “liberal Democrats” running these cities, and most of the politicians leading these cities have announced that they will resist any national military intervention.

Chicago at first appeared to be the only city willing to let in federal agents. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot previously said that federal agents will enter the city but not exert their authority in a “Portland-style” manner. According to Lightfoot, Trump intends to send federal agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and all the agencies will report to John Lausch, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. However, Lightfoot seemed to change course on Tuesday night when she tweeted that she will not permit federal agents to “terrorize” Chicago. Other figures outside Chicago have likewise viewed the descent of federal agents on cities as lawless, and prominent legal figures have sued to end the practice.

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