Video footage and first-hand accounts of unidentified federal law enforcement officials snatching up Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland, Oregon and throwing them into unmarked vehicles drew nationwide attention and outrage Friday, with members of Congress, human rights groups, and journalists accusing the Trump administration of deploying "secret police" to crush dissent.
"Unmarked federal agents in combat gear are pulling protesters off the street and jailing them without charge," tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). "That is what a police state is all about. Now is the time to defend our Constitution. Now is the time to come together and defeat Trump's authoritarian policies."
"Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street we call it kidnapping—what is happening now in Portland should concern everyone in the U.S."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called the conduct of federal law enforcement "outrageous" and said the Trump administration "should not be using unidentified federal officers as a secret police force to terrorize U.S. citizens and violate their constitutional rights."
Federal law enforcement officials from the U.S. Marshals Service and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have reportedly been patrolling downtown Portland in unmarked vehicles and detaining demonstrators without explanation since at least July 14 as protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd continue on a nightly basis across the city.
The Trump administration sent the federal officers to Portland to confront racial justice demonstrators earlier this month against the wishes of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, both Democrats. In a Fox News interview Thursday night, Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf denounced Oregon officials for demanding the withdrawal of federal officials, saying, "That's just not going to happen on my watch."
.@realDonaldTrump: Get your DHS lackey and uninvited paramilitary actions out of my state. Our communities are not a stage for your twisted reelection campaign.
— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) July 17, 2020
Journalists and demonstrators on the ground in Portland have documented numerous abuses by federal officials, including the indiscriminate firing of rubber bullets and tear gas into crowds of protesters and conducting arrests apparently without any semblance of probable cause. Over the weekend, a federal agent fractured a peaceful demonstrator's skull with an impact munition.
"This is terrifying and outrageous," tweeted Vanita Gupta, president an CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. "Secret police are the purview of authoritarians. Trump is doing this months away from the election because he thinks it helps him. But imagine what happens if he gets four more years."
Mark Pettibone, a 29-year-old Portland resident, told the Washington Post that he was detained, searched, and placed in a holding cell early Wednesday morning by men wearing military fatigues and no identifying information aside from "police" patches on their uniforms. The officers, according to Pettibone, drove an unmarked gray minivan.
"Pettibone said he still does not know who arrested him or whether what happened to him legally qualifies as an arrest," the Post reported. "The federal officers who snatched him off the street as he was walking home from a peaceful protest did not tell him why he had been detained or provide him any record of an arrest... As far as he knows, he has not been charged with any crimes."
Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street we call it kidnapping — what is happening now in Portland should concern everyone in the US.
These actions are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered. https://t.co/1zS6u05GOK
— ACLU (@ACLU) July 17, 2020
The Nation's Jeet Heer wrote Friday that "on the face of it, what these federal officers are doing is illegal and unconstitutional."
"It's possible that they are acting under the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, signed by Barack Obama, which legalized the detention of Americans suspected of being terrorists," Heer noted. "If so, then the War on Terrorism has truly come home."
Zakir Khan, a spokesperson for the Oregon chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), warned that the Trump administration may be using Portland as "a test case."
"They want to see what they can get away with before launching into other parts of the country," Khan told the Post.