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Federal officers operate amid tear gas while clearing the street in front of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on July 21, 2020 in Portland, Oregon.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

  • US Senator Ron Wyden told Business Insider that President Trump will likely deploy federal troops in liberal jurisdictions around the country, not just Portland.
  • “You bet that what is happening in my hometown won’t stop at my hometown,” Wyden said. The Oregon Democrat believes Trump will likely “expand this gross abuse of power into other cities.”
  • On Tuesday, Politico reported that the Department of Homeland Security was planning to expand what it calls “Operation Legend” and deploy more field forces.
  • “My question,” Wyden said, “Where are the Senate Republicans who preach state rights and freedoms as Trump sends paramilitary forces into cities uninvited and tramples on the Constitution?”
  • Also on Tuesday, former Vice President Joe Biden accused federal officers in Portland of “brutally attacking peaceful protesters.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, doesn’t think President Trump will be content only deploying federal agents in Portland.

“You bet that what is happening in my hometown won’t stop at my hometown,” Wyden told Business Insider on Tuesday, saying he fears the president — running a campaign of “law and order” against a moderate Democrat he falsely accuses of wanting to defund the police  — will soon “expand this gross abuse of power into other cities.”

Federal agents were deployed earlier this month in Portland amid weeks-long protests that began after the death of George Floyd after police officers knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Some of those protests have included scenes of property damage, but most — including a Sunday rally featuring a “Wall of Moms” — have been overwhelmingly peaceful, with local officials saying whatever violence there is has been exacerbated by heavy-handed law enforcement.

This weekend, for example, The New York Times reported, “Officers in camouflage and gas masks beat [Navy veteran Christopher David] with batons and blasted pepper spray in his face,” leaving him with shattered bones. 

Along with other congressional liberals, including Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris, Wyden is supporting legislation that would strictly curtail the president’s ability to deploy what he terms “a paramilitary squad” in other jurisdictions. But with Democrats a minority in the upper chamber, such an effort would require Republican support that would also have to meet a number sufficient to overcome a certain presidential veto.

Wyden wonders what happened to the conservative argument for local sovereignty. “My question,” he said, “[is] where are the Senate Republicans who preach state rights and freedoms as Trump sends paramilitary forces into cities uninvited and tramples on the Constitution? Are they so cowardly that they too will try to convince the country that ‘walls of moms’ are threats?”

At least 114 federal agents are currently deployed in Oregon’s largest city, according to the US Department of Justice. That show of force is opposed by local elected officials, from the mayor on up to the governor, who accuse Trump of embracing authoritarianism to feed a base riled up by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Mayors from Seattle to Atlanta have also spoken out against the use of “paramilitary-type forces,” fearing their cities could be next. They have good reason to believe that.

On Tuesday, Politico reported that officials at the Department of Homeland Security “have considered deploying mobile field forces to protect federal property in cities across the country that experience unrest.”

At a press conference earlier in the day, Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf said federal officers were deployed in response to “a lack of action from city officials,” the BBC reported. Those officers have arrested 43 people since July 4, he said.

“We are only targeting and arresting those who had been identified as committing criminal actions, like any law enforcement agency,” Wolf claimed, despite reports of nonviolent protesters being detained and held for hours simply for being in the vicinity of unrest.

Former Vice President Joe Biden joined the chorus of skeptics on Tuesday. In a statement, he suggested the deployment of federal law enforcement agents in Portland was political theater meant to “sow chaos and division.”

“Now Homeland Security agents — without a clearly defined mandate or authority — are ranging far from federal property, stripped of badges and insignia and identifying markings, to detain people,” Biden said. “They are brutally attacking peaceful protesters,” he added, “including a US Navy veteran.”

Legal experts echo those concerns, questioning the White House claim that its right to protect federal property, such as a courthouse in Portland, grants it the right to detain protesters who aren’t even on it.

“There is no federal statute agents are enforcing by engaging with protesters,” Jimmy Gurule, a University of Notre Dame law professor, told Reuters. “My concern is whether their protection of federal property is a ruse to interfere with protesters’ free speech.”

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Ron Wyden
civil unrest
Black Lives Matter

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