Federal Officers Deployed in Portland Didn’t Have Proper Training, D.H.S. Memo Said
Rather than tamping down persistent protests in Portland, Ore., a militarized presence from federal officers seems to have re-energized them.
By Sergio Olmos, Mike Baker and Zolan Kanno-Youngs
July 18, 2020
Updated 5:50 p.m. ET
PORTLAND, Ore. — The heavily armed federal agents facing a growing backlash for their militarized approach to weeks of unrest in Portland were not specifically trained in riot control or mass demonstrations, an internal Department of Homeland Security memo warned this week.
The message dated Thursday was prepared by the agency for Chad F. Wolf, the acting secretary of Homeland Security, as he arrived in Portland to view the scene in person, according to a copy of the memo obtained by The New York Times. It listed federal buildings in the city and issues officers faced in protecting them.
The memo, seemingly anticipating future encounters with protesters in other cities as the department follows President Trump’s guidance to crack down on unrest, warns: “Moving forward, if this type of response is going to be the norm, specialized training and standardized equipment should be deployed to responding agencies.”
The tactical agents deployed by Homeland Security include officials from a group known as BORTAC, the Border Patrol’s equivalent of a S.W.A.T. team, a highly trained group that normally is tasked with investigating drug smuggling organizations, as opposed to protesters in cities.
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The issue is playing out as the aggressive federal campaign to suppress protests in Portland appears to have instead rejuvenated the city’s movement, as protesters gathered by the hundreds late Friday and into Saturday morning — the largest crowd in weeks.
Federal officers at times flooded street corridors with tear gas and shot projectiles from paintball guns, while demonstrators responded by shouting that the officers in fatigues were “terrorists” and chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets.”
A court ruling has largely prohibited local police from using tear gas during the recent protests, which have played out for more than 50 consecutive nights.
With one Portland protester severely injured in front of the federal courthouse and others pulled by unidentified federal agents into unmarked fans, the extraordinary campaign to subdue protesters has led to widespread condemnation of the federal response in Portland and beyond.
While the protesters have repeatedly decried the city’s own police tactics, Mayor Ted Wheeler, who also serves as police commissioner, and other leaders have united in calls for federal agencies to stay away. City commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty went to join protesters gathered outside the county Justice Center downtown, saying the city will “not allow armed military forces to attack our people.”