Portland Protests

Federal Cops Are Leaving Portland. But Will the Standoff Really End?

With many of the city's entertainment options shut down, protesting has become a form of nightlife.


After I covered the clashes between protesters and federal law enforcement in Portland, Oregon, last week, I had a long epistolary conversation with one of the federal officers, to whom I promised complete anonymity, who had been stationed inside the federal courthouse that was at the heart of the conflict.

During a two-hour texting session, we war-gamed how the standoff between Portland protesters and federal forces might end:

  1. The street battles go on nightly for however long until some other issue in the world knocks it sideways.
  2. There's a huge uptick in COVID-19 cases that forces state officials to limit protests due to public health.
  3. Support for protesters grows so large, the Feds give up and essentially say, We're out. Keep your own side of the street clean, Portland.
  4. A rioter kills/severely injures a federal agent and the response is a tsunami of agents cracking down on even the perception of violence.
  5. A federal agent kills a protester, even in self-defense, and the already inflamed state of the nation's affairs combusts.
  6. An event elsewhere (i.e., George Floyd 2.0) draws national interest and protesters elsewhere.
  7. The federal building is breached/damaged enough to force occupants out, and Feds abandon the building.
  8. Local officials continue to make a giant mess, trying to shift problems they've spent years letting happen onto Feds.
  9. The protesters breach water/electric systems and make the building uninhabitable.
  10. There's a full-on terroristic attack with a vehicle against agents/building.

With the announcement today by Oregon Governor Kate Brown (D) that federal agents will be leaving downtown Portland tomorrow, it looks like none of our predictions were correct, though barring backdoor conversations we as yet know nothing of, some combination of 3 and 8 seems to explain the move.

I was at the protests all last week, and I saw no inclination on the part of the crowds to back down. In fact, I saw just the opposite.

Sure, the majority of protesters were peaceful. But the 200 or so that had been showing up in front of the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse every night since the feds showed up (in response to what was said to be local authorities' demonstrated lack of willingness to stop the violence against federal property) were growing in both numbers and tactics.

There were maybe 2,000 people outside the courthouse on Saturday night, with the usual provocations by demonstrators—flaming trash and high-powered fireworks—and responses by the feds, C.S. gas, rubber bullets, and arrests. But there was something else too: a new festiveness, marching bands, t-shirt kiosks, and, beamed onto the side of the courthouse, a high-tech light show with the names of people murdered by police, as well as piggy-faced cops with x-ed out eyes.

"The visuals projected on the side of the building had a pretty high production quality," a friend messaged me. He also indicated he was part of a private message thread where designers were figuring out how to support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which in Portland was getting pretty mixed up with what was happening at the courthouse.

The stream of support was widening, creatives and moms and vets and vendors and any other person in Portland, steeped in BLM-sympathy and/or Trump-antipathy, having a place to show support. There might be no movies in Portland, no concerts, no bars, but there was a show to go to every night, one you could help grow.

It is unknown whether the show will go on. Acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf tweeted this morning, "As I told the Governor yesterday, federal law enforcement will remain in Portland until the violent activity toward our federal facilities ends. We are not removing any law enforcement while our facilities and law enforcement remain under attack."

Someone will need to blink first, and, unless things turn truly ghastly, I have no doubt demonstrators will stay as long as the feds do. And when they go, will those who've made the building the locus of their passion and ire pull the building down brick by brick? I don't think so. They are energized to fight against a perceived enemy, and now that enemy appears to be going home.

"DHS got local support," my contact said, as to why the feds are leaving now. "If we don't have to be there because the state and local [agencies] are agreeing to do their job, we aren't needed. It's that simple."

NEXT: After Failing To Quell Unrest, the Feds Will Depart From Portland

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  1. This author did better than most in being honest about the riots, but “high powered fireworks” is still a pretty creative way of saying “Molotov cocktail”.

    We have words to describe what the rioters are throwing, use them. Hell, if it were some brown person doing this in the Middle East the same authors would correctly refer to them as IEDs.

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    2. It’s not just Molotov cocktails. The rioters are firing bottle rockets and other genuine fireworks at various targets.

      1. It’s an insurrection. And it should be treated as such. If the local authorities are standing down, or worse obstructing the feds, then they too are complicit.

        Enough is enough. Time to deal with our progressive problem.

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  2. Let the rioters burn Portland it’s the only way they’ll learn.

    1. And if they let protestors burn the courthouse down, take the all the rebuilding costs+ out of the federal aid money the state of Oregon gets every year. Trump should be able to make them pay for it, if anybody can.

  3. DHS and Trump both said they are only leaving when Portlandia stops attacking federal buildings. This was just today. Article is way out of date already.

  4. The Antifa crowd were ‘protesting’ in Portland years before George Floyd was killed. This is just the immediate justification for their activities. Let’s see if the courthouse is protected, or if it gets looted, occupied, and then burned up.
    I suspect the latter, which can only be good for Trump.

  5. The sign “Goons out of PDX” who is that referring to?

    1. I was going to write the same.

      People attacking Federal properties are goons. Not protestors.

  6. Is it coitus interuptus or not? Both unReason articles link to the same NYTimes article about Kate Brown’s statement. Nothing official.

  7. “With many of the city’s entertainment options shut down, protesting has become a form of nightlife”

    Thank you, Nancy, for stating what has been obvious for weeks now to anyone who actually lives in these cities (Seattle/Portland) and refuses to conform to the mob: These protests have almost nothing to do with George Floyd’s murder or criminal justice reform, they are mostly composed of a bunch of white Marxist LARPers who enjoy destroying property and harassing police officers because they have nothing better to do since they were laid off from their bartending/table waiting jobs back in March. Any cries that this is the Gestapo incarnate are clearly delusional and/or trying to drum up sympathy for this intellectually bankrupt joke of a “movement” for political/cultural gain.

    It’s opportunism at its most vulgar and disgusting. If you get pepper sprayed at these courthouse insurrection protests you’ll have no sympathy from me, go home and do something productive with your time for Christ’s sake.

  8. No one wants to solve this. We know this because it would be easy. There is a very small number of LARPistas and plenty of room at Guantanamo.

  9. Nancy, I’ll give you $100 if you go to the next protest wearing your #MeNeither tee-shirt.

    1. Or ‘All Lives Matter’.

  10. as well as piggy-faced cops with x-ed out eyes.

    It’ll be interesting to compare your belief that permanent blindness is entertainment with your reaction when a protester is permanently damaged. Should the cops put up a scoreboard and start ticking off runs?

  11. Let it fucking burn. Portland has gotten what it wanted, now let them have it good and hard.

  12. Contrary to Democratic talking points, the protests started before the feds arrived. If they end, it has nothing to do with the feds leaving. Loss of unemployment benefits, however, may cause them to end.

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  14. “There were maybe 2,000 people outside the courthouse on Saturday night, with the usual provocations by demonstrators—flaming trash and high-powered fireworks—and responses by the feds, C.S. gas, rubber bullets, and arrests. ”

    Finally, some honesty on the order of events.

  15. I didn’t know that Libertarians were for anarchy. But, reading these articles for the past several days has shown their support for the destruction of property and the willingness to harm others.

    1. I agree…it has been troubling to me.

      Two problems: Fed over reach AND the destruction of both private and public property. But from what I can tell, libertarians can only see one.

      Ironically, they choose to see a greater of two evils.

      1. No, REASON can only see one. Please don’t confuse Reason and libertarians.

        They got suckered by that “liberalitarian” Trojan horse ploy, and are now firmly under the control of the left.

    2. I support being free of progressive tyranny. Which we are starting to see what they are truly capable of. I also support using as much force as necessary to out and end to their bullshit.

      If progressives die en masse, they have only them selves to blame. We have staid our hands too long. No more.

  16. The protests I’ve seen in DC and Chicago are more like street parties, and comprised mostly of white females interestingly. The “women’s march” in Chicago after Trump’s election was more like a festival, comete with funny hats and public nudity. When things are genuinely awful enough to take to the streets, they don’t usually bring out a festive atmosphere full of laughter, dancing, singing, drinking, costuming, and the occasional public defecation. Only Americans seem to see oppression as an excuse to party until you drop. Or perhaps there’s nothing to protest at all?

  17. I’m seeing how it ends.

    Local authorities pretend they will protect the federal buildings. The Feds pretend to believe them. Buildings are destroyed when the Feds leave and the local authorities stand down like they always do.

    I hope the Feds don’t pretend too hard, but instead extract any irreplaceable records from the building. Probably not, though. There’s probably just too much there, and extracting it all would ruin the pretend.

    Do the Feds just let Portland be run by Antifa “community police”? Glad I don’t live there. The right wing exodus from Leftist cities will be massive, and that will only exacerbate our geographic divide.

    1. Infiltrate military into surrounding buildings. Make a public show of leaving. And then, that night, when the rioters rush in to destroy it, surround and capture them, and ID every last one of them. And bring them to court on FEDERAL charges that the local DA can’t dismiss.

      The problem to date is that they’ve had too little federal force in Portland: Enough to defend the building, but not enough to capture the rioters. So the riots keep happening.

  18. Until they actually kill a few po-leese and a bystander or two, the ‘anarkists’ are simple hobbyists who some how believe they are going to change the world (TM) by shouting loudly and pushing po-leese around.

  19. Well, the feds played that perfectly. Riot officially over. If they continue, expect America to hate them. If they go home, expect America to move on to the next crisis.

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