Defense Secretary Mark Esper expressed concern within the administration about military-style uniforms being worn by federal law enforcement officers, according to chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman. Hoffman added, however, that the U.S. military has not been deployed to Portland to handle the recent protests in “in any manner.”
A reporter asked Hoffman at a Pentagon briefing on Tuesday whether the Pentagon was concerned about a “widespread perception” that the federal agents recently sent to Portland were from the U.S. military.
“Has [the] Pentagon asked [the] DHS to do anything to more clearly mark their agents as something other than soldiers?” the reporter asked.
“We saw this take place back in June when there were some law enforcement that wear uniforms that make them appear military in appearance,” Hoffman responded.
“The secretary has expressed a concern of this within the administration that we want a system where people can tell the difference,” he added. “I’m not aware of any direct conversations with DHS on this particular deployment or their particular operations in Portland over the last week or so.”
Hoffman also said that “unequivocally there are no Department of Defense assets that have been deployed to or pending deployment to or were looking to deploy to Portland at this time.”
“You can tell the American people that the U.S. military has not been deployed to Portland, Oregon, in any manner at this point,” Hoffman said.
Chad Wolf, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said at a press conference on Tuesday that the Border Patrol and ICE officers deployed in Portland wear camouflage uniforms because they have been called from regular duty on the southwest border.
“We have highly trained officers and multi-camouflage wear because they work on the southwest border in an environment that demands that. That is their everyday uniform, and it is completely appropriate,” Wolf said.
“They have insignia on their uniforms that read ‘Police,’ … these officers are not military. Let’s not confuse that,” he added. “I have seen inaccurate press reporting accusing them of being military. They are not military. They are civilian police officers.”
Rioters have been targeting federal properties, including the federal courthouse in Portland, amid weeks of violent protests in the city since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
Deputy Director of the Federal Protective Service (FPS) Richard Cline said at the press conference that a pattern appears evident in Portland where from around 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., peaceful protesters demonstrate, but after midnight, agitators begin to invite violence.
Wolf said that from midnight to 4:30 a.m. or 5 a.m., the scene is the “complete opposite” to that given by the peaceful protesters.
“What is occurring in Portland in the early hours of every morning is not peaceful protesting,” Wolf said. “These individuals are organized and they have one mission in mind, to burn down or to cause extreme damage to the federal courthouse and the law enforcement officers.”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler during an appearance on CNN on July 19 said that federal officers’ actions have escalated the violence. Wheeler has also called on federal officers to leave the city.
Wolf criticized Wheeler for his comments.
“I have heard the mayor of Portland recently state that the federal government is to blame for this violence. Rational people know that that is not true,” Wolf said. “He would have you believe that enforcing federal law incites violence. He would have you believe that holding criminals accountable incites violence.”