Federal officers have curtailed their presence in Portland but violent protests have continued in the Oregon city, with police saying they had to declare a riot Monday night after demonstrators invaded the perimeter of a city office building.
Rioters punched and struck officers with batons, and used lasers and strobe lights to try to blind officers, who in turn used tear gas to try to disperse the unruly crowd.
It’s the second time violence has erupted near the Penumbra Kelly Building, suggesting that the protests, which had centered on the federal courthouse in Portland’s downtown area, have migrated east across the Willamette River.
But the marches near the federal courthouse have calmed down, sowing confusion on all sides over what to make of the chaotic situation.
Testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Ken Cuccinelli, the No. 2 official at Homeland Security, said federal agents and officers are still in place to respond, and gave a deeply troubling look at the tactics used.
He showed photos of shields fashioned by rioters, with holes cut just large enough to fire lasers through. He also demonstrated one of the lasers to senators, pulling his hand away from the beam after only a moment because the heat was so uncomfortable.
That, he said, is the kind of firepower that was being aimed at federal officers’ eyes, with 35 Federal Protective Service officers reporting being targeted in the eyes.
Mr. Cuccinelli also said protesters would pour gasoline onto the grounds of the federal courthouse then try to ignite it using commercial-grade fireworks, while also barricading exits. And he said some rioters tossed “homemade hand grenades.”
“Forty-nine years for the [Federal Protective Service], they have never seen anything like Portland,” Mr. Cuccinelli said.
He also said protesters have begun to shield themselves as journalists, after a federal judge issued an order directing police to treat them with special care during the protests.
Mr. Cuccinelli said some protesters quickly added press insignias to their regular black clothing.
“They will literally stand in the middle of a gap between police and rioters,” he said. “They’re actively performing a shield function.”
Democrats counter that it’s federal officers that are inciting the violence by their presence.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, Maryland Democrat, hosted an online forum complaining about “acts of aggression by federal officers,” and said he’s seen evidence of “agents’ blatant disregard for the Constitution.”
“The armed forces have to be servants to the people, and not dominator of the people,” he said, referring to President Trump’s demand that police must “dominate” cities to quell violent protests.
One of those who appeared at his forum, Oregon state Sen. Lew Frederick, accused right-wing “militia” activists of fomenting the violence, saying he recognized some figures in the crowd who would throw objects to foment the crowd, they fade into the background as the violence escalated.
Mr. Frederick also complained that the press has ignored instances where protesters have policed themselves, stopping more radical elements. Instead, he said, cameras focus on the fires that are set.
“When a fluid is sprayed on the concrete in front of a marble building and flames for a moment, the cameras go there. Flames are more interesting, though they may actually have little impact, or be put out by others,” he said.
He said matters have calmed down significantly five days after the feds lessened their prominence in defending the federal courthouse, giving the lead role instead to Oregon State Police, whom the governor belatedly deployed.
Indeed, the area now patrolled by state police around the federal courthouse has been the site of marches but, save for a few fires, has not seen the kinds of clashes that were prevalent for much of July.
Instead, those have shifted east to the Penumbra Kelly building.
Portland police had to declare a riot there Monday night, and blamed protesters for forcing fire trucks to detour en route to a blazing house.
When they tried to move the crowd, police said, one officer was punched and another was injured by someone swinging a baton.
“Over the course of hours, some members of the group began throwing objects at officers and flashing laser pointers, bright flashlights, and strobe lights in the officers’ eyes,” the city police said in a recap of Monday’s clashes.
Protesters said on Twitter that police then deployed tear gas against them.