Democrats seek probe into ‘secret police force’ in Oregon

Senior Democratic lawmakers have called for inquiries into the Trump administration’s use of federal law enforcement officers to quell protests in Oregon, saying the administration did not have “unfettered authority” to crack down on peaceful demonstrations.

The request from Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House judiciary committee, and Carolyn Maloney, who chairs the House oversight committee, came after local officials in Oregon accused the Trump administration of using unlawful and “abhorrent” tactics in Portland, the state’s largest city.

“This is a matter of utmost urgency. Citizens are concerned that the administration has deployed a secret police force, not to investigate crimes but to intimidate individuals it views as political adversaries, and that the use of these tactics will proliferate throughout the country,” Mr Nadler and Ms Maloney stated.

The Democrats want investigations of the deployments by internal watchdogs at the justice and homeland security departments.

On Sunday, Ted Wheeler, the mayor of Portland, said the Trump administration’s tactics were “completely unconstitutional”. The state of Oregon sued the federal government on Friday for violating the protesters’ civil rights.

“People are being literally scooped off the street into unmarked vans, rental cars, apparently. They are being denied probable cause, and they are denied due process,” Mr Wheeler told CNN on Sunday.

Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly accused Trump administration officials of abusing its power, including during earlier Black Lives Matters protests against racial injustice.

“Last month, the administration tear-gassed peaceful protesters in Washington, DC. Now, videos show them kidnapping protesters in unmarked cars in Portland — all with the goal of inflaming tensions for their own gain,” Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House Speaker, and Earl Blumenauer, the congressional representative from the city in Oregon, said late on Saturday.

“While Portland is the president’s current target, any city could be next. We live in a democracy, not a banana republic,” they said.

In a tweet on Sunday, Mr Trump defended his administration’s approach to the protests in the city. The White House has consistently sought to depict many of the Black Lives Matters demonstrations that swept across the US since the killing of George Floyd in May as captured by violent rioters, even though the vast majority have been peaceful.

“We are trying to help Portland, not hurt it. Their leadership has, for months, lost control of the anarchists and agitators. They are missing in action. We must protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE. These were not merely protesters, these are the real deal!” Mr Trump wrote.

Mr Wheeler, however, said the federal law enforcement officers, which included agents from Customs and Border Protection, were making matters worse. “What they are doing is they are sharply escalating the situation, their presence here is leading to more violence, and more vandalism,” he said. “They are not wanted here . . . in fact we have asked them to leave.”

Criticism of the Trump administration’s use of force in Oregon mounted last week after Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that Mark Pettibone, a 29-year-old protester, was seized on the streets by federal officers dressed in unmarked camouflage gear.

“I am basically tossed into the van,” Mr Pettibone told OPB. “And I had my beanie pulled over my face so I couldn’t see and they held my hands over my head.” According to the report, Mr Pettibone realised he had been taken to a federal courthouse only after he was released, a few hours later.

Kate Brown, the Oregon governor, described the actions by the Trump administration as “absolutely unacceptable” and “purely a photo opportunity” for the White House. “He is trying to distract . . . They only want to escalate. They want to dominate the streets,” she told MSNBC.

Mr Trump faced similar criticism in June after federal law enforcement officers cleared the area of protesters around Lafayette Square near the White House in Washington to allow the US president to make remarks in front of the local church, triggering a sharp rebuke from Muriel Bowser, the mayor of the US capital.

According to a Pew Research Center study released last month, 67 per cent of Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement. But Republicans are more likely to be opposed and the use of aggressive tactics against protesters are popular with parts of Mr Trump’s political base.