Homeland Security chief in Portland, condemns protests

2020 Protests

DHS Secretary Chad Wolf says the violence is caused by "lawless anarchists"

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Chad Wolf, the acting secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, arrived in Portland Thursday afternoon hours after issuing a statement condemning ongoing violence displayed at protests in Portland.

Wolf posted three paragraphs decrying the violence on Thursday. He said that local leaders are failing to protect the city, which he said has been “under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob.” Lawless anarchists, Wolf said, are destroying and desecrating property.

Chad Wolf
In this Oct. 29, 2019 photo, Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary Chad Wolf speaks during a meeting of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PITF)(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“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. 

“This siege can end if state and local officials decide to take appropriate action instead of refusing to enforce the law. DHS will not abdicate its solemn duty to protect federal facilities and those within them. Again, I reiterate the Department’s offer to assist local and state leaders to bring an end to the violence perpetrated by anarchists,” said Wolf.

KOIN 6 News spotted Wolf’s motorcade as he arrived in downtown Portland.

Reactions from Oregon leaders

Posted with the secretary’s statement was a list of destruction that has occurred in the city throughout the course of the protests. Read the full statement here.

Mayor Ted Wheeler‘s office confirmed he is not meeting with Wolf. But it looks like Wheeler got something he asked for: The federal courthouse building is finally getting the graffiti removed.

Meanwhile, Gov. Kate Brown blasted Wolf’s comments and the overall federal response regarding the ongoing protests in Portland.

“This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety. The president is failing to lead this nation. Now he is deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland in a blatant abuse of power by the federal government,” she said in a statement.

KOIN 6 News learned Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese was invited to meet with Wolf but declined. The sheriff’s office said, “We believed this was intended to be a thoughtful, honest and open discussion, but following statements made by Sec. Wolf, it became clear law enforcement in the City of Portland was becoming highly politicized, and for that reason, Sheriff Reese declined to meet with Sec. Wolf.”

Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese shared the following statement with KOIN 6:

“Protests are among the most difficult events to manage in policing today. We have a responsibility to safeguard the right of people to assemble and engage in free speech, while balancing other rights guaranteed in our Constitution, including maintaining public order by preventing rioting, arson and other illegal activity. As public safety professionals, we have to be measured and proportional in our response. We have to communicate our intentions and be fair and consistent, regardless of an event’s message or people’s actions. It is complex work at the best of times. As Sheriff, I value the positive the relationship we have with our local law enforcement partners, to include Federal Protective Services, U.S. Marshals Office and the FBI. However, the actions by out-of-state federal agents last weekend failed to display good decision making and sound tactical judgment. The use of force did not appear proportional to the actions of the demonstrators. I look forward to a thorough investigation into the matter. These actions caused a significant setback in our local efforts to end the nightly violence around the Justice Center and in Portland.”

Oregon’s US senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both issued statement.

Wyden tweeted: “A peaceful protester in Portland was shot in the head by one of Donald Trump’s secret police. Now Trump and Chad Wolf are weaponizing the DHS as their own occupying army to provoke violence on the streets of my hometown because they think it plays well with right-wing media.”

In a statement, Merkley said: “Federal forces shot an unarmed protester in the face. These shadowy forces have been escalating, not preventing, violence. If Sec. Wolf is coming here to inflame the situation so the president can look like a tough guy, he should turn around and leave our city now.”

Earlier this week, four of Oregon’s federal lawmakers demanded answers from U.S. Attorney William Barr and the acting Homeland Security secretary regarding the actions of federal law enforcement agents against demonstrators in downtown Portland in recent weeks, including injuring a protester over the weekend.

The letter to Barr and Wolf was signed by U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley along with U.S. Reps. Suzanne Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer on Tuesday.

“This politically driven federal response is intolerable,” they wrote. “The apparent lack of operational coordination between agencies, departments, and offices, and the violence perpetrated by federal personnel is particularly concerning.”

Federal authorities have used tear gas against demonstrators multiple times since Friday. On Saturday, a federal officer shot a protester in the face with a “less lethal” crowd control munition as the protester was raising a boom box over his head; the protester, identified as Donavan Labella, is recovering from critical injuries.

“We unequivocally condemn such acts of violence and any effort to target, attack, or silence those peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights,” the lawmakers wrote, adding they wanted answers to numerous questions regarding the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security’s actions, including whether federal officers were trained on how to interact with protesters and if the training included “nonviolent means of de-escalation,” by July 21.

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