On July 17, Defending Rights and Dissent and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) were joined by over fifty civil society groups in condemning the deployment of unidentified federal agents to Portland against the wishes of local elected officials.
According to recent press reports, those federal agents may be soon leaving Portland. While we welcome the news of the federal government backing down from its authoritarian and unlawful posture towards peaceful protests and demonstrations, DRAD remains concerned about the long-term consequences of the initial policy and the dangerous precedent it has set. Moreover, there are dozens of individuals who were unlawfully detained that still face federal charges – including many that come with steep prison sentences – stemming from their detention. Officers – even federal ones – are only legally authorized to arrest a person based on probable cause that the individual has committed a crime. And yet video after video clearly shows that protesters were often arrested and “disappeared” almost indiscriminately by camouflaged, unidentified federal agents in rental vehicles.
“This expansion of violent federal forces into cities like Portland to police protests is a frightening escalation of Trump’s ongoing war on dissent,” said Sue Udry, executive director, Defending Rights & Dissent. “Congress must take immediate action to rein in DHS and investigate the pattern and practice of abuses against protesters.”
The right to protest is as American a right & tradition as voting – and especially during this current inflection point, it’s just as important. Undermining that essential right by claiming that the vandalization & violence by some is a reflection of the whole is not only intellectually dishonest, it’s dangerous for our democracy. Trump and Chad Wolf cannot be allowed to feign concern for public safety as an excuse to curtail the public’s right to protest and dissent. The use of unidentified militarized federal forces in the face of opposition from the very local officials these forces are supposed to “assist” and the arbitrary, often-violent detention of many of them are tactics designed to terrorize protesters and their allies into submission and silence their voices at a time when their voices are most needed.
DRAD condemns these practices. We continue to call for all unwanted federal forces to be removed from Portland and any other American city. We call on the Justice Department to drop the baseless federal charges against peaceful protesters. And we urge Congress to investigate the pattern and practice of abuses by the Trump administration against protesters.