WASHINGTON—Like clockwork, for more than 60 nights, between midnight and 5 a.m., rioters and anarchists besieged the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse in Portland, Oregon.
Throughout June, as violence escalated and Federal Protective Service officers requested help, the Department of Homeland Security sent in about 20 more officers.
In early July, more agents were deployed, including Border Patrol tactical units and other agents, said Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), during a Senate hearing on Aug. 6.
Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) accused Wolf of choosing to “escalate conflicts” by sending in a “surge of federal personnel who did not have proper training to deescalate a situation,” instead of working with state and local officials.
“Instead of aligning your department’s resources, personnel, and mission to tackle the white supremacist terrorist threat, you have chosen to focus on optics,” Peters said.
However, Wolf said, until last week, federal law enforcement officers “were abandoned due to the dangerous policies by local officials.”
Local and state officials refused to partner with his agents and even prohibited local law enforcement from arresting anyone who was attacking federal property, Wolf said.
“Officials did not allow local law enforcement to police the area immediately around the federal facilities, nor in the parks nearby—which violent opportunists used as a staging ground to prepare for their nightly assault on the courthouse and our officers,” Wolf said.
The Portland City Council issued a resolution on July 22 banning Portland police bureau members from cooperating with federal law enforcement.
The City of Portland started fining the federal government—a maximum of $500 every 15 minutes—for maintaining a fence around the courthouse to create a blockade against rioters.
“As of yesterday, the federal government owes us $192,000 and counting,” City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said in a July 28 statement.
The tide started turning on July 30, after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown sent state troopers to help DHS agents quell the violence and destruction around the courthouse. Since then, violent attacks at the courthouse have abated, but crowds have targeted other buildings and clashed repeatedly with Portland police officers.
Wolf said the lack of state and local coordination with federal agents for so long was what allowed the situation to get so out of control.
“[It] allowed these violent individuals to continue to attack a federal facility night after night with no repercussion,” he said. “So they became more emboldened, night after night. And we started seeing some of the weapons that they used became more and more sophisticated.”
Wolf said bricks, frozen water bottles, and canned food were used as projectiles to throw at law enforcement.
“Night after night, 30 days in, 40 days in, there’s no consequence to them doing that, so then they come back with commercial-grade fireworks, and then they come back with IEDs, and then they come back with power tools.”
Wolf said federal agents have suffered a total of 277 injuries from the violence.
“Officers have suffered chemical burns, bloody wounds, and attacks with blinding lasers, leaving some of our colleagues with eye injuries,” he said.
He said it appears some attacks have been clearly coordinated and that some rioters seem to be trained.
Federal officers have arrested 199 individuals during the riots, Wolf said.
The FBI has opened more than 300 domestic terrorist investigations since May 28, according to Erin Neeley Cox, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas and co-head of the Department of Justice Task Force on Violent Anti-Government Extremists.
“That does not include any potential civil rights violations investigations or violent crime associated with the riots,” Cox said in a Senate hearing on Aug. 4.
At the same time, shootings have spiked in Portland since a gun violence reduction team was disbanded by Mayor Ted Wheeler.
The city recorded 63 shootings through July 26, compared to 28 in July of 2019, according to data obtained by The Oregonian.