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Defense Secretary Mark Esper has expressed “concern” within the Trump administration about federal agents dressing up in military uniforms while handling protests and riots in places like Portland, Ore., chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Tuesday.
“We want a system where people can tell the difference,” he told reporters.
Amid the roughly six straight weeks of unrest in Portland, President Trump has denounced violent demonstrations and sent in federal officers, including the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and a U.S. Customs and Border Protection team based on the U.S.-Mexico border, to protect federal property.
Trump has insisted that federal agents are needed to protect government assets in Portland, but the city’s mayor has called on Trump to remove them.
Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, said a small group of violent activists was drowning out the message of peaceful protesters. Wheeler also said the presence of federal law enforcement in Portland was exacerbating the situation.
“Keep your troops in your own buildings, or have them leave our city,” Wheeler said Friday. “The words and actions from President Trump and the Department of Homeland Security have shown that this is an attack on our democracy.”
Last week reports circulated that federal agents deployed to Portland were not identifying themselves as they detained protesters in unmarked vans. Portland Police said Monday that federal agents had deployed CS gas, otherwise known as tear gas, to disperse crowds.
In a statement, DHS insisted that agents are identifying themselves as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents. But they admitted agents are not wearing name tags — citing recent doxing incidents against law enforcement.
"The CBP agents identified themselves and were wearing CBP insignia during the encounter," the DHS said in a statement. "The names of the agents were not displayed due to recent doxing incidents against law enforcement personnel who serve and protect our country."
Agents from various Department of Homeland Security agencies clad in military-style uniforms have been seen standing outside of federal buildings. Most of those they have arrested have been near federal property, but there have been reports of federal agents snatching protesters blocks away from their jurisdiction.
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said that officers are in contact with federal agents, but that neither controls what the other does.
“We do communicate with federal officers for the purpose of situational awareness and deconfliction,” Lovell said. “We’re operating in a very, very close proximity to one another … so it’s important for us to know if they’re going to take some type of action and it’s important for them to know if we’re going to take some type of action.”
One protester, Mark Pettibone, said men in green military fatigues and generic “police” patches jumped out of an unmarked minivan early Wednesday and arrested him as he walked home from what he characterized as a peaceful protest. He told The Washington Post he was scared because he did not know who detained him. He had been questioned and released without word on whether the agents who arrested him were charging him with a crime.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended federal officers’ presence in Portland in her Tuesday briefing.
“The Portland mob has become increasingly aggressive,” McEnany said, adding that “chunks of concrete, feces, balloons filled with paint, slingshots … pig feet and batteries” have been thrown at officers, while others have attempted to “barricade” law enforcement.
“The Trump administration urges state and local officials to work cooperatively to restore law and order,” she said. “President Trump is taking action in Portland, even though you have a Democrat mayor and governor unwilling to work with us.”
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She added: “The bottom line is this president stands with law and order, which leads to peace, and we will not allow Portland to become the new CHOP, like we saw in Seattle.”
Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson, Brooke Singman and Louis Casiano contributed to this report.
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