Acting homeland security chief Chad Wolf said yesterday that federal law enforcement officers in Portland “will not retreat”, even as criticism of their deployment rose to a new pitch and protesters flooded the streets in increasing numbers.
Mr Wolf spoke just as a leaked homeland security memo revealed that officials have been instructed to gather intelligence on protesters who may be involved in the destruction of monuments and statues.
Defending the officers’ actions and calling “smear attacks” against them “disgusting”, Mr Wolf told the media that they will see their task through to the end.
“While I look forward to the day our officers are redeployed back to their regular day-to-day mission,” he said, “we will not shrink from our duty because of this violence.”
“My message is simple: If you’re looking to peacefully protest in Portland, the department respects your right to do so. Please do so away from the violent activity that’s taking place near the courthouse on a nightly basis, for your own safety.
“If you are a violent rioter looking to inflict damage on federal property or law enforcement officers, you need to find another line of work. We will not retreat. We will continue to take the appropriate action to protect our facilities and our law enforcement officers.
“If you’re a local leader, now is the time to step up and protect your community. Work with the department and other federal authorities in Portland to responsibly bring this nightly violence to a close.
“And if you’re in the media, report the facts, all the facts. Do not glamourise the anarchist and the criminals, and do not perpetuate the false narrative many of us have seen recently.”
Anger at the troops’ presence and conduct has increased sharply in recent days, with critics of the administration condemning its actions in the strongest terms.
Jeffery A. Engel, director of the Centre for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, called the deployment “precisely the type of tyrannical deployment of power that the Founding Fathers were specifically worried about”.
And Republican senator Rand Paul, a longtime libertarian, tweeted that “we cannot give up liberty for security” and that “there is no place for federal troops or unidentified federal agents rounding people up at will.”
For his part, Mr Wolf rejected some of the fascist descriptors levelled at the government’s forces. “These police officers are not stormtroopers,” he said. “They are not the Gestapo, as some have described them. That description is offensive, it’s hyperbolic, and it’s dishonest.”
Meanwhile, the troops’ efforts to quell the protests increasingly appear to be backfiring.
A video of a man being taken by two officers into an unmarked van and another of troops hitting a navy veteran with batons have only brought more protesters to the streets. Among them is a growing contingent of local mothers organising under the banner #WallOfMoms.
Nonetheless, Donald Trump is now apparently planning to make similar deployments into other Democratic-run cities that have seen major protests over police brutality and racism.
Among them is Chicago, which Mr Trump has railed against for years because of its high crime rate. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has confirmed that federal forces will soon be arriving in the city – but that she has confirmed they will be there to help fight violence, not to engage with protesters.
However, she has also drawn a line at the kind of actions seen in Portland. “We welcome actual partnership, but we do not welcome dictatorship,” she said on Tuesday. “We do not welcome authoritarianism.”
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