Governor announces withdrawal of federal forces from Portland — but there's a catch

Governor announces withdrawal of federal forces from Portland — but there's a catch
Image via Screengrab.

An immediate withdrawal of federal forces in Portland, Oregon appeared unlikely Wednesday even after Gov. Kate Brown, who called the officers "an occupying force," said they would leave the city on Thursday.

In a statement, Brown said that federal agents will begin leaving the city if certain conditions are met and that local and state police would take over protection of the outside of federal buildings in downtown Portland. Federal agents will mostly remain inside, she said, though there will be some forces remaining outside.

"The local Oregon officers of the Oregon State Police will provide protection for free speech and the security of the exterior of the courthouse with the Federal Protective Service," said Brown. "A limited contingent of federal officials, who act as building security year-round, will remain and will stay focused on the interior of the U.S. Courthouse."

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, in contrast to Brown's comments, said in a statement that his agents would remain on the streets in Portland until he deemed it necessary to withdraw—not on the governor's timeline.

"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," said Wolf.

In an appearance on Fox News Wednesday afternoon, Wolf doubled down, telling anchor Bill Hemmer that agents would not be leaving the city on Thursday despite Brown's claims that they would.

"We are not leaving Portland until we are assured that that courthouse is safe and secure," said Wolf. "We will continue to keep law enforcement officers in the area."

The White House confirmed that position to the Washington Examiner Wednesday.

"As the president and Secretary Wolf have both made clear, federal law enforcement officers will not leave until the seat of justice in Portland is secure," White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews said in a statement.

The Washington Post shed some light on the details of the plan:

The Federal Protective Service—the DHS agency responsible for protecting federal properties around the country—will remain at the courthouse with assistance from U.S. Marshals, Wolf said. Some state police will join them inside the perimeter fence, but DHS wants the state troopers and local police to keep the angry crowds and rioters away from the building, according to DHS officials who provided details on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss it publicly.

Federal agents descended on Portland earlier in the month in response to ongoing protests triggered by the killing of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers in May.

Brown and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler were both highly critical of the federal presence in the city, with Brown tweeting that the agents "have acted as an occupying force and brought violence."

"The federal occupation of our community has brought a new kind of fear to our streets," said Wheeler.

According to the New York Times:

Portland has seen more than 60 days of consecutive protests since Mr. Floyd's death. Much of the strife in the city had been between Portland police officers and the protesters.

But after President Trump issued an executive order to protect statues and federal property, federal officials sent militarized tactical teams to Portland. They employed aggressive tactics to keep demonstrators away from federal property. One protester was shot in the head with a crowd-control munition, and a Navy veteran was hit repeatedly with a baton as he stood still. In a tactic that was challenged in court by the Oregon attorney general, the federal officers used unmarked vans to target protesters for arrest.

Due to the conflicting statements on the timing and scope of the withdrawal, journalist Joshua Potash cautioned against reading too deeply into Brown's statement and urged demonstrators to remain vigilant.

"The withdraw is conditional, like the courthouse being secure," said Potash. "So feds can stay as long as they want."

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