Demonstrators in Portland, Oregon, say federal officers driving unmarked vans have been stopping to detain people during late-night protests this week, a legally dubious move that local officials are condemning.
The officers have been seen in videos posted to social media dressed in green military fatigues with “police” patches but no agency affiliation on clear display. One video shows two officers approaching a person who has their hands up, then wordlessly escorting them to a gray minivan before driving off.
Officers have been detaining protesters using this tactic since at least Tuesday, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Two protesters, Mark Pettibone and Conner O’Shea, told the outlet they were chased by an unmarked minivan early Wednesday morning as they were heading home after peacefully demonstrating. Pettibone did not escape.
“I am basically tossed into the van,” he told OPB. “And I had my beanie pulled over my face so I couldn’t see, and they held my hands over my head.”
He said the officers did not identify themselves or state the reason he was being detained, and only read him his Miranda rights after placing him in a cell. Asked if he would waive those rights to answer a few questions, Pettibone declined and requested a lawyer. He said he was released after about 90 minutes.
The whole ordeal was “terrifying,” Pettibone told The Washington Post.
Officers with the U.S. Marshals Service and Customs and Border Protection have descended on Portland in recent weeks for the stated purpose of protecting federal property as thousands in the city participate in anti-racism protests.
CBP agents are in the city because of an executive order President Donald Trump passed in response to the protests, a spokesperson said in a statement to Mother Jones.
In a statement released Thursday, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf characterized the demonstrations as a “siege” against the city of Portland by a “violent mob,” and accused “anarchists” of painting graffiti on buildings.
“Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it,” Wolf said. “A federal courthouse is a symbol of justice ― to attack it is to attack America.”
The demonstrations have been largely peaceful, with standoffs between protesters and Portland police dressed in heavy riot gear recently becoming more tense.
Last weekend, one of the federal officers shot a protester in the head in front of the federal courthouse, severely injuring him in an incident caught on video.
Local and state officials have railed against the officers’ presence, calling it a political stunt staged by the president.
“A peaceful protester in Portland was shot in the head by one of Donald Trump’s secret police. Now Trump and Chad Wolf are weaponizing the DHS as their own occupying army to provoke violence on the streets of my hometown because they think it plays well with right-wing media,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) tweeted Thursday.
The state’s other senator, Jeff Merkley, also a Democrat, likened the stunt to authoritarianism and said it “must end.”
In a statement issued Friday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) called the detentions “political theater from President Trump” that have “nothing to do with public safety.”
“The president is failing to lead this nation. Now he is deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland in a blatant abuse of power by the federal government,” Brown said.
Mike Reese, sheriff of Multnomah County, which contains Portland, declined to meet with Wolf when he visited the city on Thursday, citing the acting official’s divisive comments.
“We believed this was intended to be a thoughtful, honest and open discussion, but following statements made by Sec. Wolf, it became clear law enforcement in the City of Portland was becoming highly politicized, and for that reason, Sheriff Reese declined to meet with Sec. Wolf,” Reese said.
The American Civil Liberties Union threatened legal action on Friday in response to what it called “uninvited and unwelcome federal officers.”
“Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street we call it kidnapping — what is happening now in Portland should concern everyone in the US,” the civil rights group said in a statement. “These actions are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered.”