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Trump says fed agents to stay in Portland to finish 'cleanup of anarchists, agitators'

BLM demonstrators at Portland Oregon. 31, July, 2020. (AFP)

US Homeland Security agents, who were to begin pulling out of central Portland, Oregon, on Thursday, in an embarrassing retreat by the White House, made it clear they would not leave quietly.

The troops, who were guarding the federal courthouse in downtown Portland which has become the focus of protests, fired teargas, rubber bullets and stun grenades into the early hours of Thursday morning against hundreds of demonstrators.

Kate Brown, governor of Oregon, announced on Wednesday that she had secured an agreement with the White House for most of the federal forces to withdraw from the courthouse, and for it to be guarded by state police instead.

This was met with equal joy and skepticism with some regarding the retraction of troops a face-losing defeat for President Donald Trump, who had personally sent the DHS to Portland a month ago, saying they would  bring an end to “anarchy” in the city after weeks of Black Lives Matter protests. That obviously didn’t go according to the presidential plan.

Trump tweeted late Friday, "Homeland Security is not leaving Portland until local police complete cleanup of Anarchists and Agitators!"

Hundreds of demonstrators were still on the streets of Portland on Saturday morning, without any federal law enforcement in sight.

Earlier, Portland police cleared parks and nearby roads around the city center on Friday in anticipation of the phased pullout by federal forces.

City mayor Ted Wheeler said the deployment was part of the agreement for federal officers to leave.

“The federal officers are using CS gas broadly, indiscriminately and nightly,” he said. “That is why it is escalating the behavior we’re seeing on the streets rather than de-escalating it, and that’s why this must come to an end.”

Wheeler apologized for the Portland police using tear gas in late May and June to break up Black Lives Matter protests.

“It should never have happened,” he said.

In a tweet late Friday, Wheeler thanked the peaceful protesters, and said they had "reclaimed the space that has been a staging ground for violence, to share their powerful message of reformative justice."

The deployment earlier this month of federal tactical teams by the administration, many wearing combat-like gear, to intervene in the city after weeks of protests against racism and police brutality saw windows broken and graffiti scrawled on the federal courthouse and other buildings.

The arrival of the “Trump Troops,” as they are being called by some, exacerbated the situation, particularly when footage of protesters being snatched off the street by federal agents and put into unmarked cars went viral.

Democrats have said this "police state" intervention was, in all likelihood, a political move to present Trump as a strict law-and-order president to voters ahead of the presidential election in November.

US Attorney General Bill Barr has, predictably, came out in defense of utilizing federal officers, and rejected any suggestion of the political motivation.

"In the wake of George Floyd's death, violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests to wreak senseless havoc and destruction on innocent victims," Barr said in testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.

The federal forces were to begin withdrawing from the city on Thursday, under an agreement between Oregon officials and the Trump administration reached on Wednesday.

The withdrawal, however, was conditional to local law enforcement ensuring the security of the federal courthouse and other buildings that have been targeted by protesters.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf had warned earlier this week that a full pullout depended on the security situation "significantly" improving.

And on Thursday, Trump reiterated the need for federal intervention.

"The governor and the mayor, we've been dealing with them, and we think they don't know what they're doing, because this should not have been going on for 60 days," he told reporters.

"It's not our job to go in and clean out the cities. That's supposed to be done by local law enforcement," Trump added.

“If the mayor and governor do not stop the Crime and Violence from the Anarchists and Agitators immediately, the Federal Government will go in and do the job that local law enforcement was supposed to do!” the president added.

Not only did the DHS agents fail to rectify the situation, but they also managed to compound it by using unnecessarily violent tactics, which in turn prompted a backlash in other parts of the country after agents in camouflage were filmed snatching protesters from the streets in unmarked vans.

Whether the deployment of state police will defuse the situation, given weeks of conflict between protesters and the Portland city police before the federal agents arrived, is not clear.

For some, however, the fact that state forces are independent of the man in the White House is blessing enough for the moment.

“It’s a step in the right direction. At least the state police are not under Trump’s control,” said a demonstrator, who gave his name only as Alex. “I was afraid he would send the national guard in and it would be chaos.”

Governor Brown had told the state police to “use each and every strategy to deescalate” protests and avoid the level of force used by the federal agents. But she said they will protect the courthouse.

“They will use crowd control tactics only as a last resort,” she said.

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