Who are the ‘pseudo-cops’ arresting BLM protesters in Portland?

Calls for investigation into Department of Homeland Security tactics

Portland police
(Image credit: Ankhur Dholakia/AFP via Getty Images)

Politicians in Oregon are demanding an investigation into “paramilitary assaults” by masked, unidentified federal agents on Black Lives Matter protesters.

The mayor of Portland has called on President Donald Trump to remove federal law enforcement from the city amid reports of demonstrators being “snatched” from the streets and detained in “unmarked vans”, says HuffPost.

The state’s US senators are also backing the pleas for a probe into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) forces. So who exactly are these paramilitary forces?

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“For the last week, armed men in camouflage uniforms marked as ‘POLICE’ who do not seem to have recognisable insignias or badges, and do not have names on their uniforms, have been battling Black Lives Matter protesters,” says Salon.

“These federal paramilitaries or pseudo-cops have reportedly been seeking or inflaming confrontations with Portland protesters since at least 14 July, using tear gas or pepper spray,” the news site adds.

Speaking to Oregon Public Broadcasting, a protester identified as Mark Pettibone described being chased and pulled into an unmarked minivan full of armed people dressed in camouflage. “I had my beanie [hat] pulled over my face so I couldn’t see, and they held my hands over my head,” the 29-year-old said.

The “officers did not identify themselves or state the reason he was being detained, and only read him his rights after placing him in a cell”, adds HuffPost.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) - “one of the alphabet-soup agencies apparently supplying troops or officers or whatever we choose to call them to this effort,” says Salon - has since issued a statement to The New York Times confirming the department’s involvement in Pettibone’s arrest.

According to CBP officials, the agents’ names were not displayed because of “recent doxxing incidents against law enforcement personnel” - when the victim’s personal details are made public on the internet.

The unmarked groups are part of “rapid deployment teams” put together by the DHS, the newspaper reports, including up to 2,000 officials spanning Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard.

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US Attorney for the Oregon District Billy J. Williams has requested an investigation into the masked groups, CNN reports.

The request came days after Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, tweeted that “authoritarian governments, not democratic republics, send unmarked authorities after protesters”.

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Joe Evans is the world news editor at TheWeek.co.uk. He joined the team in 2019 and held roles including deputy news editor and acting news editor before moving into his current position in early 2021. He is a regular panellist on The Week Unwrapped podcast, discussing politics and foreign affairs. 

Before joining The Week, he worked as a freelance journalist covering the UK and Ireland for German newspapers and magazines. A series of features on Brexit and the Irish border got him nominated for the Hostwriter Prize in 2019. Prior to settling down in London, he lived and worked in Cambodia, where he ran communications for a non-governmental organisation and worked as a journalist covering Southeast Asia. He has a master’s degree in journalism from City, University of London, and before that studied English Literature at the University of Manchester.