Rioters Fire Smoke Grenades, Use Fencing to Block Exits in Portland

July 18, 2020 Updated: July 19, 2020

Rioters in Portland fired smoke grenades overnight after hauling fencing to several buildings and blocking exits.

The mayhem in Oregon’s largest city continued as an Antifa-linked group bragged that the evening “has been tactical” and demonstrators’ “energy is high.”

“With barricades slowing a potential fed attack from any direction, protesters feel in control right now, tho that could change,” PNW Youth Liberation Front said in a social media statement around midnight. The group later shared a call for members of Antifa to arm themselves with guns.

Video footage showed people in the mob hurling smoke grenades at the Justice Center, a city building that includes a police precinct, and rushing forward with fencing to try to block officers from exiting the building.

Groups also used fencing to block exit doors around the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse, a federal building near the center.

The situation began escalating around 10 p.m., the Portland Police Bureau said, as people seized fencing erected around a city park after police cleared a so-called autonomous zone earlier this week.

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Rioters use fencing to barricade an exit from the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 17, 2020. (Mason Trinca/Getty Images)

The vandals took the fencing to the Justice Center and used it to barricade doors there, the bureau said.

“People kept barricading exits with pieces of the fence at the Justice Center for several hours, including the barricading of exit doors around the Federal Courthouse. Dozens of people worked to barricade the doors while hundreds either cheered them on or assisted,” the bureau said in a statement.

Shortly after midnight, the mob began shooting commercial-grade fireworks and smoke bombs near the barricaded doors while a different portion of the group used fencing to block traffic on a nearby street.

Police declared an unlawful assembly at 1:33 a.m. and began dispersing the crowd after a warning. While the crowd was being dispersed, some demonstrators hurled projectiles at the officers.

Several people were arrested.

A crowd of several hundred returned to the area less than an hour later. Officers again dispersed the crowd, arresting several people. Some shields and weapons were taken from members of the group during the arrests.

Federal officers protecting the courthouse helped respond to the chaos.

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Demonstrators remove a fence to block a road in Portland, Ore., on July 17, 2020. (Ankur Dholakia/AFP via Getty Images)
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Federal officers prepare to disperse the crowd of protesters outside the Multnomah County Justice Center in Portland, Ore., on July 17, 2020. (Mason Trinca/Getty Images)
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Federal police use CS gas and pepper spray on rioters in Portland, Ore., on July 17, 2020. (Ankur Dkholakia/AFP via Getty Images)

Customs and Border Protection, which said it made an arrest of a man this week, has agents in the area. Other Department of Homeland Security officers are also helping disperse the crowds.

Demonstrators have appeared to show no signs of stopping the nightly gatherings, though Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler asserted earlier Friday that the gatherings were winding down before federal officers started responding more forcefully to the violence.

City officials have tried appeasing the mobs, appointing Chuck Lovell, a black man, as police chief after Erika Shields resigned; taking some money from the police department’s budget; and restricting police from using certain crowd control tactics like firing tear gas.

Wheeler said the moves, along with deescalation tactics like having police officers stationed inside the Justice Center as opposed to outside of it, were causing the size and energy of the demonstrations to decline.

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Demonstrators gather in front of the Multnomah County Justice Center in Portland, Ore., hours before rioting started, on July 17, 2020. (Ankur Dkholakia/AFP via Getty Images)

“That really didn’t give anybody any opportunity for a back-and-forth between demonstrators and law enforcement, or the other way, and what we saw was the numbers were dwindling, the energy in the crowd was decreasing or moving elsewhere to do other things. Then the feds came in,” Wheeler told reporters in a virtual briefing.

“A week ago, we were saying, given the withering energy, the declining numbers we were seeing, the lack of targets that were available, we actually believed we would be in the clear by this weekend,” he added later.

Federal officers aren’t facing restrictions on crowd control measures. They have been deploying tear gas and using other methods to quell the mobs.

Wheeler said he did not want to meet with acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, and Lovell said that no one from the bureau met with the secretary. The bureau later clarified that officer Daryl Turner, who has regularly spoken out against city leadership’s handling of the mayhem, met with Wolf in his capacity as president of the Portland Police Association.

Lovell made remarks that stressed neither federal nor local officers are directing each other, though a line of communication is open between them.

“The Portland Police and federal officers have buildings near each other. At times, we may take action near them. The federal officers have their objectives, and the Portland Police has our objectives. We don’t direct federal officers’ actions, and they do not direct ours. Our objective is to protect life, protect property, prevent crime, and establish order,” he said in a prepared statement during the briefing.

Wolf referred to Portland as a city “under siege.” The siege won’t end until state and local officials act to quell the demonstrations, he said.

Pressed on how exactly city officials plan to stop the chaos, Wheeler said: “We get rid of the feds. Number two, we contain and deescalate the situation. Number three, we clean up downtown. Number four, we open up for business. That’s the plan.”

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