A teargas tornado was seen barreling down a street in Portland as federal agents violently clashed with about 2,000 protesters overnight, just hours after the Justice Department said it was investigating the use of force during demonstrations and President Trump threatened to send 60,000 officers into more cities.
The bloody standoff between protesters and authorities, which lasted into the early hours of Friday, marked the 57th straight day of unrest in Oregon’s largest city as residents continue to demonstrate against racism and police brutality.
Twitter user Robert Evans shared footage of what he called ‘a literal tear gas tornado in downtown Portland’ in the early hours of Friday morning.
Portland has become the scene of a controversial crackdown by federal agents, ordered by President Donald Trump, in a bid to stop violent protests that have been ongoing since the death of George Floyd two months ago.
Trump has now threatened to send in 60,000 to other cities across the country as his law and order takeover extended to Seattle on Thursday were agents were on standby for duty.
The mainly peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrations ended in Portland overnight like many before it – in a violent showdown between protesters and law enforcement.
The clashes erupted around midnight when authorities say some demonstrators tried to kick down the protective steel fence, which is reinforced by a barricade, that separated the protesters from law enforcement.
Protesters targeted the federal courthouse by launching fireworks and hurling trash they had set on fire over the fence.
Federal agents wearing fatigues lobbed tear gas canisters back at demonstrators, used flash bangs and fired pepper balls after declaring the gathering unlawful.
In violent scenes, law enforcement moved from behind the fence into the streets at about 1.30am to advance on the protesters as clouds of gas rose from the area and flash grenades could be heard
Bloodied protesters, many who were helmeted and wearing face masks, were seen being treated by street medics during the clash.
The clash came soon after the the Justice Department’s watchdog said on Thursday it was investigating the use of force by federal agents in Portland during protests against racism and police brutality.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz said his office opened the probe after civil unrest escalated in the past week following claims of camouflaged federal agents using force and snatching people from the streets and putting them into unmarked cars.
While most demonstrators initially took to the streets of Portland after Floyd’s death in late May to call for police accountability and reform, some say they now have different reasons.
On Thursday, the hundreds of protesters chanted ‘Black Lives Matter’ but also ‘Feds go home.’
Protests in Portland directly linked to Floyd’s death started to lose steam in early July before the reports emerged of federal officers taking demonstrators away in unmarked vehicles.
The Department of Homeland Security, whose law enforcement agents are facing fierce criticism for their actions in Portland, said its internal watchdog was also conducting a probe.
The violence overnight unfolded just 24 hours after Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, was among those tear-gassed during another clash after he was mostly jeered by protesters as he tried to rally them and a demonstrator threw shrapnel at his feet.
President Trump, who has labeled the demonstrators as ‘agitators & anarchists’, reveled in the fact the mayor had been teargassed in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity Thursday night.
‘We have this Mayor Wheeler who I think is also the police commissioner and he made a fool of himself,’ Trump said.
‘He wanted wanted to be among the people so he went into the crowd and they knocked the hell out of him and that was the end of him. It was pretty pathetic.’
Demonstrators and local officials see the deployment of the agents in Portland as a ploy by Trump to drum up a ‘law and order’ campaign as he faces an uphill re-election battle.
Wheeler has called the intervention an abuse of federal power and said it was escalating the violence.
The mayor, however, has been accused by critics – including city council members – of not reining in local police who used tear gas multiple times on protesters before federal agents arrived early this month.
City business leaders have condemned Wheeler for not bringing the situation under control before the agents showed up.
Department of Homeland Security acting Secretary Chad Wolf has denied that federal agents are inflaming the situation in Portland.
He told CBS This Morning that Wheeler legitimized criminality by going to the front of the crowd of demonstrators where the fires were lit and where people were trying to pull down a security fence.
Officials in Portland are pushing back against the federal agents, with a judge granting a temporary restraining order on Thursday that bans them from arresting legal observers and journalists at protests.
Meanwhile, Trump on Thursday threatened to send in 60,000 additional federal agents into other American cities facing unrest.
‘We’ll go into all of the cities, any of the cities. We’re ready. We’ll put in 50,000, 60,000 people that really know what they’re doing,’ Trump said. ‘And they’re strong. They’re tough and we can solve those problems so fast.’
His threat came as his law and order takeover extended to Seattle on Thursday when a special response team of federal agents was drafted to stand by for duty in the city.
Chicago also geared up for a surge of federal agents after Trump threatened to send in the troops to help tackle an uptick in gun violence.
Local officials, however, have warned they would draw the line at any Portland-style deployment.
‘We’re not going to allow the unconstitutional, state-sanctioned lawlessness we saw brought to Portland here in Chicago,’ Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on Twitter.
It came as protesters gathered outside the Chicago mayor’s house on Thursday night as after she ordered the removal of the city’s Christopher Columbus statues – a move critics blasted as bowing to ‘violent nihilists’ and Italian-Americans branded a ‘betrayal’.
Thousands of Black Lives Matter demonstrators took to the streets to march on Lightfoot’s house as night fell, demanding she defund the Chicago Police Department and turf federal agents out of the city, as tensions over racism and police brutality continue to mount.
Chants turned from ‘f*** CPD’ to cheers of elation when someone announced over the microphone that the city would take the controversial Columbus monuments down from Grant Park and Little Italy.
A crane hoisted the Grant Park statue off its pedestal under cover of darkness early today, watched by a small crowd who cheered as it was driven away on the back of a truck, while the Little Italy statue also came down.
News of the statues’ removal sparked yet more divides across the city, with protesters happy with the decision heading to Grant Park in the hope of watching the historic moment take place.
They were met by counter-protesters, including Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara, who were outraged at the decision.