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DHS Goes Full Gestapo In Response To Ongoing Protests In Oregon

Published: July 20, 2020 | Print Friendly and PDF

Source: Tech Dirt

Looks like we finally have some secret police to call our own. Ongoing protests stemming from a Minnesota police officer's brutal killing of an unarmed Black man have provoked a federal response. In some cases, the National Guard has been called in to quell the more violent and destructive aspects of some demonstrations. Others -- like the 50+ days of continuous protests in Portland, Oregon -- have been greeted with something far more frightening.

Jonathan Levinson and Conrad Wilson of Oregon Public Broadcasting were the first to break the news of unidentified federal officers yanking people off the street into unmarked vehicles and disappearing them for a few hours of interrogation.

In the early hours of July 15, after a night spent protesting at the Multnomah County Justice Center and Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse, Mark Pettibone and his friend Conner O’Shea decided to head home.


A block west of Chapman Square, Pettibone and O’Shea bumped into a group of people who warned them that people in camouflage were driving around the area in unmarked minivans grabbing people off the street.

“So that was terrifying to hear,” Pettibone said.

They had barely made it half a block when an unmarked minivan pulled up in front of them.

“I see guys in camo,” O’Shea said. “Four or five of them pop out, open the door and it was just like, ‘Oh shit. I don’t know who you are or what you want with us.’”

Pettibone was grabbed by the unidentified officers, who wore nothing indicating which branch of the federal government they worked for, and shoved into a van with his hat pulled down over his eyes. He was taken to the federal courthouse (something he wasn't aware of until he was released), patted down, photographed, and had his belongings searched. After all of this, he was put into a cell where he was finally read his Miranda rights. He refused to talk to the officers and they released him about 90 minutes later. At no point was he told what he had been detained for, nor was he given any paperwork documenting his detainment.

No one appears to know for sure which branch of the federal government is taking people off the street and detaining them without probable cause. The officers performing these sweeps use unmarked vehicles and dress in camouflage uniforms that contain no identfying info that might indicate what agency they work for.

The federal government has deployed a mixture of federal agencies to cities with ongoing protests, including the US Marshals Service, CBP, ICE, and Bureau of Prisons riot officers. Presumably the DEA is in the mix as well, since it invited itself along for this anti-free-speech ride.

The DHS -- speaking through its acting secretary -- says this is justified.

The city of Portland has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city. Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it.  

A federal courthouse is a symbol of justice - to attack it is to attack America. Instead of addressing violent criminals in their communities, local and state leaders are instead focusing on placing blame on law enforcement and requesting fewer officers in their community. This failed response has only emboldened the violent mob as it escalates violence day after day.

A long list of supposed atrocities committed by protesters follows. Most of the list details graffiti, along with low-level vandalism targeting cameras and police barriers. Also listed are activities like trespassing, doxing federal officers, and deploying laser pointers. Secretary Chad Wolf universally describes the protesters as "violent anarchists," even though there's no evidence linking protesters to coordinated activities by anarchists groups. Setting off fireworks and clashing with riot police are normal behavior during protests, but Wolf's narrative portrays these as acts of war in a clash local law enforcement agencies are losing.

Wolf says he's going to take this local action nationwide. Protesters in other cities will soon be experiencing the federal government's Stasi-esque bypassing of niceties like the need to establish probable cause before shoving people into unmarked vans and dragging them away for questioning.

With as much lawbreaking is going on, we're seeking to prosecute as many people as are breaking the law as it relates to federal jurisdiction. That's not always happening with respect to local jurisdiction and local offenses. But, you know, this is a posture we intend to continue not just in Portland but in any of the facilities that we're responsible for around the country.

The Oregon state Department of Justice has already filed a lawsuit against the federal government for its actions. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum issued this statement a few days after OPB broke the news.

I share the concerns of our state and local leaders -- and our Oregon U.S. Senators and certain Congressional representatives -- that the current escalation of fear and violence in downtown Portland is being driven by federal law enforcement tactics that are entirely unnecessary and out of character with the Oregon way. These tactics must stop. They not only make it impossible for people to assert their First Amendment rights to protest peacefully. They also create a more volatile situation on our streets.

TL;DR: the federal government's secret police are rioting.

Other civic leaders in Oregon feel the same way.

The mayor of Portland demanded Friday that President Donald Trump remove militarized federal agents he deployed to the city after some detained people on streets far from federal property they were sent to protect.

“Keep your troops in your own buildings, or have them leave our city,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said at a news conference.

Democratic Gov. Kate Brown said Trump is looking for a confrontation in the hopes of winning political points elsewhere and to serve as a distraction from the coronavirus pandemic, which is causing spiking numbers of infections in Oregon and the nation.

If Trump and Republicans don't like Governor Brown politicizing the federal response to protests, they should take a long look at their own motivations first.

If you can't read/see the tweet, it says:

Flanked by AG Barr, Pres says he's planning announcement next week on Federal action to quell violence in cities, citing Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago. He says some cities "are like war zones," and makes it partisan, saying they're run by "liberal, left-wing Democrats."

The only agency that's confirmed its presence in Portland is the CBP.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokeswoman said on Friday agents had been deployed to Portland to support a newly launched U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unit, tasked with enforcing last month’s executive order from Republican President Donald Trump to protect federal monuments and buildings.

But the DHS claims officers have not been rolling up on people in unmarked vans and dragging them to unknown locations for questioning.

A senior DHS official said officers arrested people for assaulting federal officers and vandalizing federal property, but did not provide specific cases. The official, who requested anonymity to discuss the issue, rejected the idea anyone was arrested without good cause.

“Federal officials don’t go around arresting people for no reason,” the official said. “This isn’t communist China.”

No. It's not. But that's what's happening. And it's being done with the blessing of the "law and order" president who has spent more time bashing people engaged in First Amendment activity than condemning the actions of the law enforcement officers who triggered these ongoing demonstrations. You don't have to be a Communist to enact a police state. Fascists like police states, too.

Let's step away from the secret police tactics that everyone -- including the agency overseeing the secret police -- agrees shouldn't be happening here and look at why federal agents and officers might be wandering the streets in gear that doesn't clearly indicate their agency affiliation.

It's all about dodging accountability. If arrestees and detainees don't know who's tossing them into unmarked vans, they're going to have a much more difficult time suing them for violating their rights. Sure, you can sue Does and unknown agencies but without more, it's going to be tough to keep the lawsuit alive. Detainees are being released without paperwork, ensuring there are no links between the officers doing the detaining and the rights violations they're inevitably going to be sued over.

The lack of identifying insignias makes it impossible for onlookers to testify to more than the fact that they same someone toss a Portland resident into an unmarked van and drive away. This testimony would be mostly useless in a kidnapping investigation. It's even less useful in federal lawsuits where officers and their agencies are already given a great deal of deference on top of the qualified immunity escape hatch.

But there's more to it than lawsuits. This is truly frightening even for those not being disappeared. Friends and family members who witness this happening (or are informed of it by witnesses) don't know who took the resident off the streets or who to contact to see if they can provide bail money or a ride home or even check on their well being.

Cops have been limiting personal accountability since the protests began by covering their badge numbers and removing other identifying information. The federal government's insertion of a melange of federal agencies into the mix muddies the water further, making it almost impossible for citizens to know who's coming after them or for what reason. Officers can stop people momentarily with reasonable suspicion but it requires probable cause to take them off the street and detain them for questioning. None of that appears to be in play, no matter what the DHS Secretary says. If the federal agents were so sure about the "rightness" of their actions, they wouldn't be afraid to wear agency insignias and/or identify themselves when detaining people.

This is nothing more than federal-level intimidation tacitly approved by this administration -- one that feels any local agency not actively brutalizing protesters has lost control of the situation. And the agencies involved are doing everything they can to ensure they and their officers will get away with it.



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