If only mobs were allowed to destroy federal property without consequence.
Then, there wouldn’t have to be any dispute over federal agents defending a federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon; it could simply be overrun and burned to the ground with no unwelcome resistance.
As it is, Portland’s Mayor Ted Wheeler, who presides over a city that has become a watchword over the years for left-wing thuggery unchecked by municipal authorities, has roused himself to state of high dudgeon — over federal officers trying to counter ongoing assaults on a federal building.
He calls the feds “a direct threat to our democracy,” and argues that they are engaging in unconstitutional arrests and inflaming protests that he had hoped “would end within a matter of days.”
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden had this coolheaded take on the president and his acting secretary of Homeland Security: “Now Trump and Chad Wolf are weaponizing the DHS as their own occupying army to provoke violence on the streets of my hometown because they think it plays well with right-wing media.”
If Portland was on the verge of calm prior to the arrival of the feds in force, it would have been the first time since the killing of George Floyd.
Protests have taken place every day since May 28. A few headlines of a timeline from the website of a local TV station KOIN.com: For May 29: “Massive vigil in North Portland leads to declared riot downtown.” For May 30: “Curfew imposed — and ignored.” For June 30: “Police union building protest: Another riot was declared by police.”
Although the federal courthouse has done nothing to provoke protesters and has been standing at the same spot since 1997, it has been a constant target. Protesters have smashed its glass doors, covered its exterior with graffiti and repeatedly attempted to light it on fire. This has been happening since at least early July.
True to form, protesters over the weekend took down fencing and lit a fire at the building’s entryway. As a statement from the Portland police put it, “dozens of people with shields, helmets, gas masks, umbrellas, bats and hockey sticks approached the doors” of the courthouse — but surely it was just a misunderstanding that led the federal officers to believe they had to repulse them with tear gas.
This isn’t hard: It is the people attacking federal property who bear moral responsibility for what’s happening in Portland. In all the cities around the country where nihilistic mobs aren’t trying to burn down symbols of our justice system, there’s no enhanced presence of federal officers.
The feds haven’t been wearing badges with their names and have been using unmarked cars — for fear of retaliation against the officers involved and mob actions against vehicles. Both are unquestionably legal tactics. According to DHS, the officers are wearing the insignias of their agencies and unique identifiers; they are arresting only people suspected of involvement of attacks on federal property; and they are identifying themselves to arrestees, although not to crowds.
Perhaps these officers should be more clearly identified, but there’s no case whatsoever for calling them, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has, “stormtroopers” who are “kidnapping protesters.” The arrest of a man named Mark Pettibone has gotten a lot of press attention. He says he did nothing wrong and was arrested by federal agents, who took him to the federal courthouse and read him his Miranda rights, before releasing him.
Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review, the American conservative magazine of news and opinion.