WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is weighing a broad deployment of federal officers to Chicago and other cities nationwide, even as state and local leaders in Oregon denounced tactics by federal agents who detained Portland protesters in unmarked cars while wearing uniforms with no specific agency affiliation.
The deployment discussions include dispatching almost 200 officers to Chicago, according to a person familiar with the operation who was not authorized to discuss the plans publicly. At least some would be drawn from the ranks of the Department of Homeland Security, the source said Monday.
The planning for Chicago was first reported by the Chicago Tribune on Monday as President Donald Trump said he was considering expanding the deployment of federal officers beyond Portland.
Trump aimed his remarks at cities led by Democrats, asserting that the cities are besieged by “anarchists.” The president and administration officials have frequently made such broad-brush assertions about protests. Portland has been the scene of nearly daily demonstrations against police abuse since the May 25 death of George Floyd, who was pinned under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer and repeatedly said he could not breathe.
As tensions in Portland rose through the weekend, Mayor Ted Wheeler called for the removal of federal officers, claiming their presence contributed to an escalation of the conflict.
Asked about the plan for Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday she had “great concerns,” given the government’s performance in Portland.
“We don’t need federal agents without any insignia taking people off the streets and holding them, I think, unlawfully,” she said. “That’s not what we want.”
In a joint letter asking for the withdrawal of federal forces from their jurisdictions, Wheeler and Lightfoot, along with mayors of several major cities, said federal officers have no oversight and have blatantly disregarded local rules and expectations about wearing identifications, using tear gas and crowd control.
The mayors also accused the Trump administration of using federal officers for political purposes.
“The President and his administration continually attack local leadership and amplify false and divisive rhetoric purely for campaign fodder. Their words and actions have created an environment of fear and mistrust,” according to the letter, which was addressed to Attorney General William Barr and Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf.
Trump, meanwhile, lauded the work of federal officers in Portland.
“We’re going to have more federal law enforcement, that I can tell you,” Trump said, referring to a possible deployment to other cities. “In Portland, they’ve done a fantastic job. They’ve been there three days, and they really have done a fantastic job in a very short period of time, no problem. They grab them, a lot of people in jail, their leaders.”
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Trump said the people arrested in Portland were not protesters but “anarchists” who “hate our country.” Trump has hammered on protests and unrest, as well as calls to redirect funding for police departments, as a campaign issue.
In Portland, where the Trump administration sent a cadre of federal officers, officials from multiple law enforcement agencies said they are acting under federal authority to protect federal properties from vandalism.
The scope of that mission has been blurred by accusations that unidentified federal officers in unmarked vehicles grabbed protesters off the streets in downtown Portland and detained them without explanation. A lawsuit filed Friday by the state’s attorney general against the federal Department of Homeland Security and other agencies seeks an injunction to prevent officials from engaging in such tactics.
The lawsuit cites allegations from Mark Pettibone, a protester who said he was walking home early Wednesday morning when men in green military fatigues with no identifiable insignia approached him.
In an affidavit accompanying the suit, Pettibone said the men placed him in an unmarked van and took him to a holding cell at a federal courthouse, where he was read his Miranda rights. He said he refused to answer questions and was released.
“No one told me why I had been detained, provided me with any record of an arrest or explained what probable cause they had to detain me,” Pettibone said in the affidavit.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency within Homeland Security, confirmed last week it detained a protester but disputed accounts it did so without cause. The agency, which did not name Pettibone, said agents had information about a person suspected of assaulting federal agents or destroying federal property.
DHS Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli dismissed the uproar over the use of unmarked vehicles, telling CNN Monday that he did not consider the practice at all unusual.
After bashing political leaders in Portland and describing the city as “out of control,” Trump suggested more federal officers could be destined for Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland, as well as Chicago.
“Well, I’m going to do something – that I can tell you,” Trump said at the White House. “We’re not going to let this happen in our country, all run by liberal Democrats.”
Trump repeatedly mentioned Chicago as one of the cities likely to get additional federal law enforcement resources.
“How about Chicago?” he said. “I read the numbers where many people (were) killed over the weekend.”
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said local police are best suited to deal with protesters in their cities, and an aggressive federal response could further escalate tensions. He said that although police at times use unmarked vehicles, officers are in uniform and have names or badges.
“What cities have learned about demonstrations,” Wexler said, is “to do what they can to work with demonstrators … to be visible, to do everything to try to deescalate potential confrontations. Force on force has never been a good approach.”
Local police are more likely to be familiar with demonstrators, which can help the situation, he said.
“Very often, they will know the leaders, they will communicate with them,” Wexler said. “They are accountable because they’re in uniform … What doesn’t work is officers in riot gear, which only escalates the situation.”
Since the earliest days of his presidency, Trump has sought to use Chicago to highlight the administration’s anti-crime and immigration enforcement policies.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions repeatedly clashed with city leaders there, who like other U.S. municipal officials have opted to limit their cooperation with federal government efforts to enforce immigration law.
On Monday, Democratic lawmakers said the administration’s action in Portland and the prospect of a dramatic expansion to other cities represented “a gross violation” of civil rights laws.
Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, along with four other lawmakers, announced a legislative proposal Monday aimed at blocking the administration from such local deployments.
“The federal incursion has inflamed conflict in Portland at a time when local leaders are working to de-escalate friction between protesters and police and has been opposed by Portland’s and Oregon’s elected leaders,” the lawmakers said.
“These are the actions of an authoritarian regime, not a democratic republic,” they said.