Federal Agents in Unmarked Vans Are Detaining Portland Protestors

Shannon Barbour
Photo credit: Anadolu Agency - Getty Images
Photo credit: Anadolu Agency - Getty Images

From Cosmopolitan

  • Reports broke today that federal agents in unmarked vans are arresting and detaining Portland Black Lives Matter protestors.

  • Protestors are unable to tell if the uniformed agents are police or far-right extremists "who frequently don military-like outfits" and are known to antagonize left-leaning and Black Lives Matter protestors.

  • The American Civil Liberties Union deemed these actions "flat-out unconstitutional."

  • The mayor of Portland said neither he nor the city want the help of these federal agents, whom he said are using "life-threatening tactics."

As Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, Oregon carry into a second month, armed federal agents in camo gear and "police" patches (but no other identifying symbols or badges) are now arresting, searching, and detaining protestors in unmarked minivans. At a minimum, these tactics, which have been denounced by the Portland mayor, civil rights groups, protestors, and civilians, dangerously blur the lines between the police and "far-right extremists, who frequently don military-like outfits and harass left-leaning protesters" in the city.

Mark Pettibone, 29, spoke to The Washington Post about his arrest and how he wasn't Mirandized until he was in a holding cell at the courthouse. "It seemed like it was out of a horror/sci-fi, like a Philip K. Dick novel," he said, adding, "It was like being preyed upon.”



According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, federal officers have been using unmarked vans to detain protestors since at least July 14 and have charged 13 people. That said, many more have been arrested and released. In another case, a man was hospitalized with a fractured skull after officers shot him in the face with "less lethal" weapons on July 11. The outlet added:

"The tactic appears to be another escalation in federal force deployed on Portland city streets, as federal officials and President Donald Trump have said they plan to 'quell' nightly protests outside the federal courthouse and Multnomah County Justice Center that have lasted for more than six weeks."

On July 14, the mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler, tweeted that he spoke to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and told him these agents were escalating the situation and the city doesn't want their help or use of "life-threatening tactics."

Two days after the mayor's tweets, Wolf released a statement saying, "DHS will not abdicate its solemn duty to protect federal facilities and those within them."

Amid mounting concern from the public, other public officials have spoken out against the Trump administration's tactics, and the American Civil Liberties Union released a statement via Twitter saying, "Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street we call it kidnapping—what is happening now in Portland should concern everyone in the US. These actions are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered." In a second tweet, the organization added, "Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland are being assaulted—shot in the head, swept away in unmarked cars, repeatedly tear gassed—by uninvited and unwelcome federal officers. We won't rest until these federal officers are gone."

Speaking to The Washington Post about what the situation in Portland could mean for the rest of the nation, Council on American-Islamic Relations Spokesperson Zakir Khan cautioned, "I think Portland is a test case. They want to see what they can get away with before launching into other parts of the country."

Here are guides for how to demand justice right now, how to support Black trans lives, how to find mental health resources if you’re a Black woman, how to talk to your relatives about Black Lives Matter, how to donate wisely, how to spot a fake protest story, and how to protest safely.


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