PORTLAND, Ore. -- Protesters who have clashed with authorities in the Pacific Northwest are not just confronting local police. Some also are facing off against federal officers.
The Department of Homeland Security has deployed officers in tactical gear from around the country and from more than a half-dozen federal law enforcement agencies and departments, to Portland, Ore., as part of a surge aimed at what a senior official said were people taking advantage of demonstrations over the police killing of George Floyd to engage in violence and vandalism.
"Once we surged federal law enforcement officers to Portland, the agitators quickly got the message," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing operation.
The deployment represents somewhat of a departure for the Homeland Security Department, which was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and is primarily focused on threats from abroad and border security.
Portland Deputy Police Chief Chris Davis said his department did not request the assistance and did not coordinate efforts with the federal government during often chaotic clashes that have ranged across several downtown blocks after midnight for weeks.
"I don't have authority to order federal officers to do things," Davis said.
The Homeland Security officers' presence comes at a tense moment for Portland. After Floyd's death, the city for days saw marches and rallies that attracted more than 10,000 Black Lives Matter protesters to the downtown area. The police took a "mostly hands-off approach" to those events because they were orderly, Davis said.
President Donald Trump, speaking Friday at a military base near Miami, said Portland officials failed to adequately respond to the protests. "It was out of control," he said to acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf. "The locals couldn't handle it and you people are handling it very nicely."
Civil-liberties advocates and activists have accused federal authorities of overstepping their jurisdiction and excessive use of crowd-control measures, including using tear gas and patrolling beyond the boundaries of federal property. Portland police are prohibited from using tear gas under a recent temporary court order unless they declare a riot.
Trump issued an executive order on June 26 to protect monuments after rioters tried to remove or destroy statues of people considered racist, including a failed attempt to pull down one of Andrew Jackson near the White House.
The president referred to "the violent mayhem we have seen in the streets of cities that are run by liberal Democrats," as well as the "merciless campaign to wipe out our history," in his July 3 Mount Rushmore speech.
After the executive order, the Homeland Security Department created the Protecting American Communities Task Force and sent officers from the Customs and Border Protection agency and other agencies to Washington, D.C., Seattle and Portland. Others were ready to deploy elsewhere if needed.
Attorney General William Barr says there have been more than 150 arrests on federal charges, including destruction of property and assault, around the country, with about 500 investigations pending related to recent protests. There were about a dozen in Portland in recent days.
Portland police officials say the cycle of nightly attacks, which have shut down much of the downtown, has been unprecedented. Early Thursday, a man in a SUV fired several times into the air as he drove away from protesters who had surrounded his car. "We've never seen this intensity of violence and focused criminal activity over this long period of time," Davis said.