Portland protesters and agents in violent clashes
After a week of escalating confrontations between protesters and federal agents outside a federal courthouse in Portland, Ore., Gov. Kate Brown said this week that the Department of Homeland Security has agreed to a phased withdrawal of its officers. Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf cautioned, however, that any pullback was contingent on “significant” improvement in the security situation in the city, where protesters’ numbers have swelled over the past week in opposition to the federal presence. His point was underlined by President Trump, who said he was ready to send up to 75,000 federal agents into Democratic-led cities he painted as bastions of lawlessness. “We’re not leaving until they’ve secured their city,” he said of Portland. “If they don’t…we’re going to have to go in and clean it out.” While thousands of Black Lives Matter demonstrators have gathered peacefully in Portland by day, at night the scene at the courthouse has grown tense and violent, with activists throwing rocks and cans, launching fireworks, and setting fires while agents emerge to fire tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who was tear-gassed when he joined the demonstrators, called the agents in riot gear “an occupying force” and blamed them for intensifying the protests.
Demonstrations spurred by the Portland standoff spread across the U.S. over the weekend, with police and protesters clashing in Los Angeles; Chicago; Richmond, Va.; and Aurora, Colo. In Seattle, police used pepper spray and flash grenades to clear some 2,000 protesters galvanized by the presence of federal agents sent into the city to quell anticipated violence. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan—one of six mayors who called on Congress on Monday to bar the use of federal troops in cities that haven’t requested them—called the use of “paramilitary-type forces” in U.S. cities “textbook despotism.”
What the editorials said
Trump’s incursion into Portland is an act of “stunning overreach,” said The Seattle Times. Protecting the federal courthouse “is defensible,” but sending agents “into city streets to use brutal tactics veers into dystopian governance.” The Department of Homeland Security “has no role using force within an American city” where it’s not wanted. This militarized intervention is a “blatant political power play,” said The Boston Globe. To boost his troubled re-election bid, Trump is trying to “tap the same fearmongering and racialized appeal” that helped get him elected in 2016.
If Democratic mayors don’t like what’s happening in Portland, they should “get off their duffs and start governing,” said WashingtonExaminer.com. The so-called peaceful protesters have inflicted millions in property damage, set the police union headquarters on fire, laid siege to a courthouse, and fired on law officers with slingshots and air rifles. If ineffectual local officials desperate “to placate the anti-police mob” won’t crack down on these “anarchist rioters,” someone else must.
What the columnists said
For Trump, Portland has been a “roaring success,” said David Graham in TheAtlantic.com. Needing a distraction from his “disastrous” pandemic performance, Trump “barely concealed” his goal: Send federal forces into unwilling Democratic cities, wait for images of conflict, “and then use it as both retroactive justification and political leverage” for his re-election campaign. The “tit-for-tat violence” that’s escalated over the past week would represent a dismal failure if the goal was to quell unrest, “but it never was.” Trump aimed to stoke it.
The “storm trooper” comparisons are absurd, said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com. The federal deployment in Portland is “plainly legal, justified, and proportionate.” The agents’ right to protect federal property from a violent mob is unquestionable. The off-site arrests seized on by hyperventilating critics as “rogue” abductions were prudent police work; to “wade into a crowd” to arrest a lawbreaker is to invite danger.
This is “Authoritarianism 101,” said Trudy Rubin in The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Despots stoke violence and civil strife to scare their people into supporting leaders who would ‘protect’ them.” When faced with peaceful protests, they “provoke chaos, as an excuse to unleash their own violence.” I’ve seen this “strongman’s playbook” in operation around the globe, from Syria and Egypt to Russia and Hong Kong. But I never expected to see it unfold in America.
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
Cover photos from AP, Getty (2) ■