Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf slammed Portland’s mayor and his “completely irresponsible” comment that members of his department and other federal agents are “sharply escalating the situation” in the city.
“The facts don’t lie and the facts are that these violent anarchists and extremists were violent well before DHS surged federal assets into Portland,” Wolf told “Fox & Friends” on Monday, the morning after the 53rd consecutive night of protests in Oregon’s largest city.
Over the weekend rioters broke into the Portland Police Association building and set it on fire, as demonstrations over the death of George Floyd intensified for another night, according to Portland Police.
President Trump has denounced the violent demonstrations in Portland and the Trump administration has enlisted federal agents, including the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group, to protect federal property.
The unrest had frustrated Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, and other local officials who had said a small group of violent activists was drowning out the message of peaceful protesters. Wheeler also said the presence of federal law enforcement in Portland was exacerbating the situation.
Wheeler said Friday, “Keep your troops in your own buildings, or have them leave our city.”
“The words and actions from President Trump and the Department of Homeland Security have shown that this is an attack on our democracy,” Wheeler added.
Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Wheeler doubled down on his statements.
“The president has a complete misunderstanding of cause and effect,” Wheeler said. “What’s happening here is we have dozens, if not hundreds of federal troops descending upon our city and what they’re doing is they are sharply escalating the situation. Their presence here is actually leading to more violence and more vandalism.”
“We haven’t asked them here. In fact we want them to leave,” he added, calling the intervention, which he said is “a blatant abuse of police tactics by the federal government” and the Trump administration, “a direct threat to our democracy.”
Wheeler went on to say, “We’re all telling the Trump administration to stop the rhetoric, take these people out of our city, they are not helping us, they are hurting us.”
In response, Wolf said, “I believe it’s a completely irresponsible comment.”
“What we know is, before July Fourth, where we saw an escalation of violence in Portland, before that time there was violence ongoing and DHS had very few officers in the city,” he explained.
“At the end of the day we’re going to protect the courthouse and we’re going to protect our law enforcement officers there,” he went on to say,
Wolf pointed out that there have been “over 50 nights of violent activity targeting federal facilities and federal law enforcement officers,” and added that “it needs to stop.”
“DHS is not going to back down from our responsibilities,” he continued. “We are not escalating, we are protecting … federal facilities.”
He noted that “it’s our job” to protect federal property.
“It’s what Congress told us to do time and time again and so we’re going to do that,” Wolf said. “We’re going to investigate and we’re going to hold those accountable. We’re going to arrest them and hold those accountable that are doing this destruction.”
Oregon Public Broadcasting reported last week that some agents had been driving around in unmarked vans and snatching protesters from streets, not near federal property, without identifying themselves.
Tensions also escalated after an officer with the Marshals Service fired a less-lethal round at a protester’s head earlier this month, critically injuring him.
Responding to criticism, Wolf said “local leaders in Portland have fostered this environment that allows” people to “attack the courthouse” and do “violent” and “destructive” acts “night after night after night.”
“They congregate around midnight and they go until about 4:00 to 4:30 a.m. every single night [for] over 50 nights, while the Portland leaders there do nothing about it,” Wolf said.
He stressed that DHS officers and other federal agents are protecting federal property and as they come across people performing criminal acts, “we’re going to investigate and we’re going to arrest them and we have the authority to do that.”
“We’re not trying to escalate, we’re trying to hold those folks accountable,” he explained. “What we’re not going to do is allow them to attack a courthouse and then simply step across the street on to city property and say you can’t touch me. That’s not how this works.”
Wolf noted that “almost all of our activity has taken place in the one, two or three blocks around that courthouse and will continue to do so.”
“There are other parts of city and other parts of Portland that are having destructive acts taking place. DHS is not anywhere near that,” Wolf said. “We’re focused on protecting federal facilities, that is our mission and we’re going to continue to do that.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.