President Donald Trump has threatened to deploy the National Guard to quell Portland protests in an apparent attempt to save face hours after he backed down and agreed to remove federal troops from the city.
Trump once again decried ‘agitators and anarchists’ in Portland during an address in Midland, Texas, on Wednesday afternoon following the announcement that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will begin a phased withdrawal of federal officers on Thursday after almost a month of nightly violent clashes outside the city’s courthouse.
The president praised the officers’ efforts before warning that he will take even stronger action if the unrest continues after they leave.
‘If they don’t solve that problem locally very soon, we’re going to send in the National Guard and get it solved very quickly, just like we did in Minneapolis and just like we will do in other places,’ he said.
‘They want to solve their problem, they’ve got a very short time to do it, but they’ll either solve their problem or we send in the National Guard.’
Trump made the comments during a speech on restoring energy dominance in the Permian Basin, where he railed against liberals for trying to regulate the area’s oil industry.
He segued into the protests in an awkward fashion by charging that eliminating methods such as fracking could turn the US into Venezuela. He said the US ‘isn’t far from that – just look at Portland’.
Trump expressed similar sentiments about the situation in Portland in a pair of tweets ahead of the speech, writing: ‘If the Federal Government and its brilliant Law Enforcement (Homeland) didn’t go into Portland one week ago, there would be no Portland – it would be burned and beaten to the ground,’ he wrote.
‘If the Mayor and Governor do not stop the Crime and Violence from the Anarchists and Agitators immediately, the Federal Government will go in and do the job that local law enforcement was supposed to do!’
The tweets came just after Oregon Gov Kate Brown confirmed that the federal government had agreed to remove agents from Portland if officials secure the city and its Mark O Hatfield federal courthouse, where the height of the violence has occurred.
‘Beginning Thursday, all Customs and Border Protection and ICE officers will leave downtown Portland, and shortly thereafter will begin going home,’ Brown said in a statement.
The DHS said it had signed on to the joint plan to end the violence in which state and local law enforcement would begin to secure areas around federal properties.
In a statement, DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf said that the ‘department will continue to maintain our current, augmented federal law enforcement personnel in Portland until we are assured that the Hatfield Federal Courthouse and other federal properties will no longer be attacked and that the seat of justice in Portland will remain secure’.
Trump had said earlier on Wednesday that federal agents will not be leaving Portland until local officials rid it of ‘anarchists and agitators’.
‘We’re not leaving until they secure their city. If they don’t secure their city soon, we have no choice. We’re gonna have to go in and clean it out,’ the president told reporters ahead of his flight to Texas.
‘So in Portland, they either clean out their city and do the job and get rid of the anarchists and agitators, which is what they are. They’re not protesters.
‘They either clean out their city and do it right or we’re going to have to do it for them.’
At the Midland event Trump specified how he intended to intervene in the future – by sending in the federal National Guard.
The president has made the same threat on multiple occasions in the two months since protests broke out nationwide over the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed when a white Minneapolis cop kneeled on his neck during an arrest.
In the first few weeks of protests he did send troops to several US cities, but they were only allowed to serve as support for law enforcement and did not have any power to arrest or detain citizens.
To give them those powers Trump would have to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807, which allows the president to deploy troops when federal laws cannot be properly enforced.
Trump signaled his intent to invoke the act last month but never followed through amid a debate over whether he could do so without consent from governors, most of whom said they did not want troops in their cities.
The talks between the White House and Oregon began on Tuesday, a day after the US Marshals Service and the DHS debated whether to send in more agents.
The marshals were taking steps to identify up to 100 additional personnel who could go in case they were needed to relieve or supplement the deputy marshals who work in Oregon, spokesman Drew Wade said.
On Tuesday, Portland officials also announced their own action against the deployment of troops by fining the federal government until it removes an unpermitted fence around the Mark O. Hatfield courthouse.
Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly announced fines on the fence that was set up without permission.
Eudaly said the government hasn’t responded to a cease and desist demand on behalf of the city sent last week and said the bill against the federal government is now $192,000 ‘and counting’ as of Monday night.
‘We intend to collect,’ she said. ‘Typically, we would send a maintenance crew or contractor to remove such an obstruction, but I will not send workers into harm’s way,’ she said.
‘Yes, I am afraid to direct workers to do their job and enforce our laws against the federal government – I hope that gives everyone reading this pause,’ she added.
According to the transportation bureau’s rules, which Eudaly oversees, it can assess a maximum $500 fine for obstructing the public right of way without a permit and levy a charge every 15 minutes, hourly, daily, weekly or monthly, according to Oregon Live.
The fence has become the heart of evening protests, which have broken out in the city for months following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
Protesters have hit the streets demanding an end to racial injustice and police brutality.
The demonstrations have escalated into violence with protesters throwing rocks, Molotov cocktails, fireworks and laser pointers at the federal courthouse.
Federal agents have responded with tear gas, less-lethal ammunition and arrests.
Despite the clashes between agents and civilians, Trump has touted their deployment as a success.
‘We, as you know, have done an excellent job of watching over Portland and watching our courthouse where they wanted to burn it down, they’re anarchists, nothing short of anarchist agitators,’ Trump said Tuesday.
‘And we have protected it very powerfully. And if we didn’t go there, I will tell you, you wouldn’t have a courthouse. You’d have a billion-dollar burned-out building.’
US Attorney General William Barr has also defended the aggressive federal response to Congress, saying ‘violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests’ sparked by Floyd´s death.
On Monday the feud between troops and city officials only inflamed when the Trump administration announced they’ll send in additional federal agents to the city, despite demands from elected representatives and lawsuits against the deployment.
Now Oregon state leaders are advocating for a ban on tear gas, limits on munitions and legislation to require officers display their names and ID numbers in the upcoming special session in the State Legislature.
‘Our federal delegation has pushed for DOJ and DHS Inspectors General to investigate Trump’s lawless actions in Portland—they are also working to defund this action in Congress,’ she said.
‘I know how challenging this is for Portlanders. I am committed to doing everything in my power to end this federal occupation and move forward with our community’s reckoning with racial injustice and our efforts to transform our approach to policing and public safety,’ Eudaly added.
Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty have called for a ‘cease-fire’ in the protests.
The American Civil Liberties Union in Oregon filed a motion alleging that the militarized U.S. agents are attacking journalists and legal observers with riot-control munitions, despite a federal court ordering them to stop this week.
Last week, the U.S. District Court in Portland – located in the same federal court building that’s been the focus of protests – temporarily blocked federal officers from targeting journalists and legal observers at the protests.
The ACLU asked the court to sanction and hold in contempt federal agents for violating the temporary restraining order.
It also asked the court to order Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli to personally appear and show why they should not be sanctioned for contempt.
The organization cited numerous instances in which agents have violated the order by firing impact munitions and using pepper spray against people clearly marked as journalists or legal observers.
One journalist, Jonathan Levinson of Oregon Public Broadcasting, said in a statement to the court that while he was trying to take a photograph Friday, he saw a federal agent raise his weapon, aim it at him and fire several rounds.
‘My camera and lens were splattered with paint,’ Levinson said. ‘Based on my position and the position of people around me, there is almost no chance the agent was aiming at anyone other than me.’
Trump had also sent troops to Seattle on ‘standby’ last week to protect federal buildings amid civil unrest.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said Tuesday that she had received confirmation that agents had left her city.
Meanwhile, businesses in the downtown area are fighting to survive.
Stacey Gibson, who owns five fast-food restaurants in Portland has said that nightly protests have been hijacked by people ‘taking advantage of an opportunity’ and who are not a part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Gibson said it has been ‘terrifying’ trying to keep her businesses open.
She told Fox News @ Night that she believes a bunch of opportunists are taking advantage of the protests and that the message of the Black Lives Matter movement ‘is getting lost’.
‘It’s certainly not the Black Lives movement that is causing all this damage on the federal buildings and everything else,’ Gibson said.
‘It’s just people taking advantage of an opportunity. And it’s hurting a lot of people – I mean, not just the businesses but the residents and everybody that’s trying to be down here. I mean, it’s just destroyed Portland, in my opinion.
‘It’s terrifying as a business owner. I’m just not really sure what to expect and this is just unprecedented situations.’