The FBI issued a statement clarifying its role in the Portland, Oregon, protests, saying that it was there to investigate “specific violations of federal law” and that it will target violent acts and property destruction, not ideology.
Portland, like many other U.S. cities, has seen nightly protests that began at the end of May in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man who died while in Minneapolis police custody. Many of those protests escalated into violence and rioting, with protesters sometimes hurling projectiles and fireworks toward a federal courthouse. The Trump administration has responded to the violence by surging federal law enforcement resources to the city to combat the violence and protect federal buildings and monuments.
Renn Cannon, special agent in charge of Portland’s FBI field office, clarified the bureau’s role in the conflict on Friday, saying that it was assigned to investigate specific violations of federal law, such as arson, the use of improvised explosive devices, and interstate transportation of stolen goods.
“The FBI’s role is to investigate violent crime and hold those accountable who are engaging in violent acts or significant destruction of property,” Cannon said.
Cannon added that their focus was not on “membership in particular groups but on individuals who commit violence and criminal activity that constitutes a federal crime or poses a threat to national security.”
“The FBI does not and will not police ideology,” the agent said.
The statement comes after President Donald Trump and his administration received backlash over allegations that the federal agents were engaged in “unconstitutional” tactics to arrest protesters. Many local and state officials, as well as congressional lawmakers, claim the deployment of the federal forces has escalated the unrest in Oregon’s largest city, saying that the decision was tantamount to federal overreach or a dictatorship.
Protesters alleged that federal agents wearing camouflage and tactical gear without identifying insignia are detaining individuals and placing them into unmarked vehicles without stating the basis for an arrest, according to various accounts made to media outlets.
The accuracy of these reports has been disputed by acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Chad Wolf, who says the federal officers wear multi-camouflage that have insignia that read “Police” and that the operations only target and arrest individuals who have been identified as committing criminal acts.
Wolf on Saturday said that six DHS law enforcement officers were injured in the rioting in Portland.
“It’s time Portland join other responsible cities around the country to hold criminals accountable and protect federal property and officers,” he said.