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Portland: Battleground of Protesters and the Trump Administration

How did the conflict between federal officers and protesters in Portland begin, and what will it mean for the future?

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Since the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, the United States has experienced waves of protests encompassing the entire nation.  At the same time, many agitators took advantage of the unified civil unrest to escalate the protests into acts of violence and rioting. From the start, President Donald Trump blamed Antifa and violent anarchists for taking advantage of the protest movement to start chaos on the streets of major cities like Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle, and Philadelphia.

Portland has had a history of mass demonstrations breaking out in violence in the last four years, with some considering Portland the unofficial hub of Antifa due to their strong presence in the city. While protests in the city had been going on for weeks after Black Lives Matter protests swept the nation, many argued that the violence seen in recent weeks stemmed from the presence of federal agents in the city.  The Trump administration cited threats to the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Federal Courthouse by protesters as the reason for their presence in the city and sent in federal law enforcement under the pretense of protecting federal property.

Opposition to federal involvement came from all of Oregon’s executive branch, with governor Kate Brown and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum criticizing the “dramatic escalation of violence by the federal government against demonstrators demanding police reform.” At the local level, Portland Mayor Tom Wheeler accused the federal agents of being “paramilitary forces” and spearheading an “unconstitutional occupation.” Attorney General Rosenblum attempted to sue the Trump administration for infringing on the state’s law enforcement responsibilities and jurisdiction, bringing into question whether President Trump’s order was lawful in the first place. Oregon’s opposition to the presence of federal agents sparked debate over the nature of the federal government’s ability to sent pseudo-police forces into states and cities without outside input.

While the presence of federal agents certainly agitated protesters in Portland, there were plenty of examples of violence occurring in the city. Dozens of videos surfaced, showing demonstrators throwing light explosives, firecrackers, frozen water bottles, and other items at federal agents. Many were arrested and charged with arson for throwing explosives and firebombs at the courthouse. During Attorney General William Barr’s testimony in Congress, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) used his opening statement to play a video of the violence going on in Portland and other cities throughout America. The video contradicted committee chair Jerry Nadler’s (D-NY) claims that the violence in Portland was a hoax and a front for President Trump’s re-election efforts as the law and order candidate.

Ultimately, violence in Portland has finally come to a slow with the announcement that federal law enforcement would leave. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Oregon Governor Kate Brown had agreed on the withdrawal on the condition of continued protection of federal property by Oregon State Police in downtown Portland. Before this agreement, Portland officers were ordered not to interfere with the protests outside the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse, and state troopers were nowhere to be seen. Both sides of the debate have claimed victory, with Democrats against the federal presence in the city praising the governor and Republicans supporting the rule of law praising the Trump administration for forcing the state to do its job in protecting federal property and law enforcement buildings. Both sides will continue to claim victory over the situation due to its significant political impact over the last few weeks. Still, the precedent these events have created will undoubtedly increase the willingness of citizens and law enforcement to use violence against one other, knowing their side will back them regardless of the outcome.

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Jose Backer, General Assignment Reporter, is a graduate of St. Michael's College and is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Political Science. Born and raised in Southern California, he currently resides in the Pasadena area.

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