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'Feds Stay Clear, Moms Are Here': Portland Mothers Form Human Shield to Protect Protesters from Federal Agents

"Portland moms are nothing to mess with."

A group of mothers stand arm-in-arm outside the federal building and Justice Center in downtown Portland, Ore., on July 18, 2020, during another night of protests in Portland. Rights activists and lawmakers expressed outrage over reports that federal agents circulating in unmarked cars in Oregon were grabbing and detaining protesters off the streets. (Photo: Mark Graves, The Oregonian via AP)

Angered over the arrival of federal agents in Portland, Oregon, where racial justice protests have been ongoing for nearly two months, dozens of mothers from across the city joined demonstrators over the weekend to form a "Wall of Moms."

The human shield was formed by the mothers to protect hundreds of demonstrators assembling in the city who in the past week have faced attacks and arrests from federal agents under the direction of the Department of Homeland Security. Those units arrived last week, uninvited by city and state officials, and agents have been filmed pulling protesters into unmarked vehicles as well as tear-gassing crowds. 

"We will protect protestors without the use of violence," organizers wrote on a Facebook event page for the first Wall of Moms protest, which took place Saturday night. "We will shine a light of the unjust narrative being thrown around...protestors are being stripped of their rights."

 "Let's do what we do best—protect people," the organizers added.

Participants and observers shared videos of the mothers linking arms to wall off protesters at a federal courthouse, holding signs reading, "The Feds Are Outside Agitators" in reference to officials' claims during the nationwide racial justice uprising that people were descending on cities to create chaos during peaceful protests. The women chanted, "Feds stay clear, moms are here!" 

Organizers reported that the moms were among the protesters who were tear-gassed Saturday.

Despite the violence, an even larger group of mothers showed up Sunday night, assembling at the Multnomah County Justice Center with many of the moms dressed in yellow.

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Federal agents responded to the gathering of more than 1,000 protesters by again tear-gassing dozens of people, including many of the mothers who had joined the demonstration, and deploying flash-bang grenades.

"Portland moms are nothing to mess with," tweeted civil rights advocate Zakir Khan.

The grassroots coalition plans to continue joining protests "until no protester needs protecting," organizer Bev Barnum told Buzzfeed News.

"There's all the times in one's life when you hear about things in authoritarian regimes and Nazi Germany, and you say, 'I wouldn't put up with that.' This is that time," Julia Peattie, who joined the Wall of Moms Sunday night after participating in the Black Lives Matter protests previously, told Buzzfeed.

Shannon Watts, founder of the national gun control group Moms Demand Action, was among those who applauded the mothers for sacrificing their own safety after witnessing the violence perpetrated by the federal agents. 

"American moms are always on the frontlines because if we lose our children, what else do we have to lose?" Watts tweeted.

Journalist Joshua Potash warned that the agents' willingness to fire tear gas at mothers holding a peaceful demonstration shows the lengths the Trump administration is willing to go to in order to distract from what Oregon Gov. Kate Brown called the president's "failure to lead this nation through a global pandemic" last week. 

"If the feds will gas and assault a bunch of moms they'll do anything," tweeted Potash. 

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