The acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) chief traveled to Portland late Thursday as violent demonstrations unfolded in the Oregon city for the 50th consecutive night.
Chad Wolf said in a statement before arriving that Portland is “under siege … by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city.”
“Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it,” he said.
The siege could end if state and local officials decide to quell the demonstrations, Wolf asserted.
And he said he would not order the withdrawal of federal troops who have been protecting the federal Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse.
Violent demonstrators, some of whom are linked to Antifa and other far-left groups, have gathered on a nightly basis, assaulting buildings and law enforcement officers, a police official said in a briefing earlier this month. The damage and lost business from the demonstrations amounts to over $23 million.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat who has called for the Trump administration to remove the federal officers, said he knew Wolf and other DHS officials arrived in the city.
“We’re aware that they’re here. We wish they weren’t. We haven’t been invited to meet with them, and if we were, we would decline,” he said in a statement on Thursday.
Democratic Oregon Gov. Kate Brown called Wolf’s arrival “political theater from President Trump” that “has nothing to do with public safety.”
“I told Acting Secretary Wolf that the federal government should remove all federal officers from our streets. His response showed me he is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes. He is putting both Oregonians and local law enforcement officers in harm’s way,” she said in a statement.
Other city officials joined in calling for the removal of federal troops, including City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. Echoing some of Wheeler’s rhetoric, Hardesty said the presence of federal troops “has escalated tensions and put countless Portlanders exercising their First Amendment Rights in greater danger.”
Wolf said during an appearance on Fox News’ “Hannity” late Thursday that he called Wheeler and Brown and offered DHS support to help them quell the violent demonstrations.
“And their only response was, ‘Please pack up and go home,'” he said, adding, “That’s just not going to happen on my watch.”
Wolf toured the federal courthouse and saw the graffiti that demonstrators have scrawled onto the building, including slogans about killing police officers, as well as broken windows and broken doors.
“It’s time that we take a stand. It’s time that the local leaders here publicly condemn what the violent anarchists are doing. Only then I think will police, local police and federal police, get this under control,” he said.
President Donald Trump, a Republican, said at a White House event earlier Thursday that city officials can call administration officials for help.
“Let Chicago call. Let Seattle call. We were going into Seattle, all set to go, and then they did it themselves,” he said, referring to Seattle workers clearing an autonomous zone after weeks of tolerating the occupation.
Demonstrators, meanwhile, gathered again Thursday downtown and clashed with law enforcement officers.
Several hundred people gathered in two different groups, the Portland Police Bureau. Officers declared an unlawful assembly after some in the crowd began hurling projectiles, including rocks, and pointing lasers at officers. Others were blocking traffic.
Officers heard chants that one crowd wanted to burn down the Southeast Precinct.
Video footage captured by people on the scene showed federal officers deploying chemical gas.
The Antifa-linked PNW Youth Liberation Front was among those accusing officers of using disproportionate force and said the chants were actually about “burning down the system.”
“Pigs are trying to use a chant as a justification for violence. they need an excuse to escalate,” the group wrote on Twitter.
Earlier in the week, police officers forced people out of two city parks where a new autonomous zone was set up. The parks were fenced off, but demonstrators dismantled most of the fencing surrounding Lownsdale Park early Friday.