The federal pullback in Portland immediately brought calm to the anti-racism protests

Protest in downtown Portland
(Image credit: Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

Large crowds have still been showing up at the federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, since federal agents disappeared from view Thursday, but there's been a palpable change in atmosphere, and for the first time in weeks, calm. Protesters and members of the Trump administration cited the withdrawal of militarized federal agents and their violent tactics — tear gas, rubber bullets, clubs, legally dubious detentions — as the main reason for the relative peace. With federal agents present, some protesters threw bottles or firecrackers, tried to breach fencing around the courthouse, and shined laser pointers at officers.

"There is still violence going on in Portland," acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told Fox News on Saturday. "But we do see it at a much lower level. We're happy about that." Demetria Hester, one of the mothers who formed a wall between the federal agents and other protesters, told The Wall Street Journal she thinks federal authorities "got the message" and left because they knew "we're not going to back down."

Sunday's crowd outside the federal courthouse in downtown Portland, the 67th straight night of anti-racism and police reform protests since the Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, appeared "relatively small," The Oregonian repots. But Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights drew the larger groups that have been congregating since President Trump sent in the federal agents in early July. Oregon State troopers have replaced the federal agents at the courthouse, under an agreement Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) reached with the Trump administration.

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With federal agents off the streets, the protesters have refocused their efforts on systemic anti-Black racism and their longstanding issues with local policing. A clash broke out Saturday night outside a police precinct across the river in Southeast Portland, as officers aimed bright lights and what appeared to be video cameras at a protest march, and some protesters responded with laser pointers and bottles.

The federal agents aren't gone yet — a "quick reaction force" of some 130 agents are hidden around Portland. But they are no longer the issue. "On Saturday night, as protesters downtown marched peacefully through the streets, they noticed through the windows of a different federal building that Homeland Security agents were standing inside watching them," The New York Times reports. "Some in the crowd stopped to flash lights through the window. One agent appeared to respond by raising a middle finger. Then the crowd continued on."

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