Federal law enforcement has descended on Portland like an occupying army. What the fuck is going on?

Federal law enforcement officers break up a demonstration in Portland on July 4th

By David Futrelle

You may have seen the video on Twitter: two federal law enforcement officers, kitted out as if they’re patrolling the streets of Kabul, march across a Portland street, grab a seemingly peaceful protester standing on the sidewalk and hustle him into an unmarked van. (If you haven’t seen the video, it’s below.)

It looks for all the world like a state-sponsored kidnapping, the sort of thing we’re more used to seeing in authoritarian regimes. But maybe that’s what we’re becoming.

As Willamette Week notes:

The sight of armed federal officers—who look dressed for overseas combat or the U.S. border they are trained to protect—is an alarming one for many citizens. The image summons memories of other moments of civil unrest in U.S. history: National Guardsmen shooting college students at Kent State in 1970, or federal troops responding to the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992.

For the past several weeks, a ragtag army of federal law enforcement officials from four different departments, including Border Patrol and Homeland Security, have been running wild in downtown Portland, treating it like their own private fiefdom. They were send there, unrequested, by Donald Trump, who thinks they’re doing a “great job.” On Monday he said,

Portland was totally out of control. We very much quelled it, and if it starts again, we’ll quell it again very easily. It’s not hard to do, if you know what you’re doing.”

The feds have already seriously injured one peaceful protester, whom they shot in the head with supposedly “less-lethal” ammunition while he was standing in the street holding a speaker over his head. His skull was fractured and he has had to undergo facial reconstruction surgery. Portland police are barred by a restraining order from using tear gas and “non-lethal” munitions on protesters, except in life-threatening circumstances; the feds are not.

Elected officials want them out. Oregon senator Ron Wyden has compared the federal officers to an “occupying army.” Portland mayor Ted Wheeler tweeted that “We do not want or need their help.”

The Portland Police have been making some questionable arrests themselves. In the video below, you can see an officer knock a bike rider to the ground and a swarm of police descend on him. It’s not clear what, if anything, the biker did to deserve such treatment.

What the feds are doing in Portland is indefensible, a clear attempt to intimidate all protesters, peaceful or otherwise and effectively deny them their right to protest. But the bigger worry is what Trump may do next. Trump has complained endlessly that the mayors of large cities like Chicago and Washington DC aren’t doing enough to control violence (and protests) in their streets, and has long threatened to send in the feds in to do the job for them, so to speak.

Is Portland merely a dry run for a much larger campaign to intimidate protesters in big, Democratic cities? Does he plan to use federal officers to intimidate voters come November? Is what’s happening in Portland a strange one-off experiment or is it just the beginning of a wave of political repression to come? What happens if heavily armed Trump supporters and “boogaloo” fanatics decide to get involved? I shudder to think.

Is there anything we can do about this? Nothing but raise our voices in protest and, for those able to, put our bodies on the line.

UPDATE: There’s finally some national news coverage of this. See this newer post of mine for links.

Below, you can find an assortment of Twitter threads I’ve found useful in making sense of what’s happening. (Just FYI, I don’t necessarily agree with all the analyses; I just think these threads contain helpful perspectives and useful information)

Feel free to post additional links in the comments below — articles, blog posts, tweets, etc. If you’re in Portland now and have seen this first hand, please share your story.

Send tips to dfutrelle at gmail dot com.

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1 year ago

I suspect if official agencies don’t work, his next tactic would to whip up his maga brownshirts to commit acts of terror (more so than he’s done already).

1 year ago

An appropriate song for this thread: Gang of Four doing “He’d Send in the Army“.

Diego Duarte
Diego Duarte
1 year ago

The biggest problem is that these people aren’t the army but Academi (previously Blackwater) which is a paramilitary group. That is a classic dictator move since you can avoid accountability that way. There’s no paper trail and no official orders issued, so they can do whatever they want at their own discretion. You will only find out the full extent of their violations years down the line, after a full-scale investigation.

I don’t know how it works in the US, but everywhere else, any person could sue the government over human rights violations, because these are forced disappearances.

1 year ago

@Snowberry : the army. Or enough mercenaries, since Blackwater seem involved.

Legality isn’t a concern at the stage we are at ; only compliance. Apparently the army isn’t down for a Trump dictatorship right now, but that can change.

Lukas Xavier
Lukas Xavier
1 year ago


It feels like the 1930s. It feels like we’re on the verge of another world war.

I suspect it won’t be a world war as much as a world collapse or world fragmentation.

Our economics are unsustainable and our politics are incapable of doing anything other than status quo. I see lots of problems coming down the line and I see no ability to handle them.

A big unknown is climate change. How bad and how quickly? I’m not sure how much time we’ve got left before things get nasty. I’m especially concerned about effects on agriculture. You can’t bullshit people about whether they’re hungry. Spin doesn’t work on that and desperate people do desperate things.

Basically, I think everyone will be too busy trying to keep their own countries afloat, they won’t have time to wage war. So, silver lining, I guess?

occasional reader
occasional reader
1 year ago

> Policy of Madness
Thank you for the informations about the US legal strate system.
Is the POTUS considered as part of the upper strate ? Can a president be sued for not having imposed masks to be wear (and if yes, by who ? The same persons who can ask for impeachment ?) ?

1 year ago

@Lukas Xavier
So, in other words, the beginning of the movie Interstellar? For those who haven’t seen it, at the start most world governments have collapsed as a result of a corn blight and everyone has to be a subsistence farmer to survive while massive dust storms sweep the planet.

@occasional reader

Is the POTUS considered as part of the upper strate ?

Yes, the president is considered part of the federal government.

Can a president be sued for not having imposed masks to be wear (and if yes, by who ? The same persons who can ask for impeachment ?) ?

I don’t think the president can be sued or impeached for not making mask orders. Impeachment requires a high crime or treason, and negligence probably isn’t considered a high crime. Someone could try a lawsuit, but I don’t think it would get far.

1 year ago

I’m afraid that going to war is what desperate countries do. 1930s Germany certainly didn’t think “we’re too busy trying to keep our own country afloat, let’s not invade anyone else.”

However, to me it feels more like the 1900s. Capitalists had gone too far, sparking the rise of socialism and the push for colonial independence. Empires cracked under the strain of their own broken economies, in the midst of a technological revolution that kept changing the balance of power. Even the tension of autocracy vs democracy is similar, being internal to many countries rather than between countries like it was in WW2 and the Cold War.