PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — The Proud Boys held a rally in Portland on Saturday, aimed at forcing police to crack down on nightly demonstrations held by local antifascist protesters. It appears they were successful, with Monday’s announcement by the U.S. Marshal for Oregon refusing the mayor’s request to rescind federal deputization of Portland police.
U.S. Marshall Russ Burger and U.S. Attorney Billy Williams said Wednesday that they would not cancel the deputization of 56 Portland police officers and 22 Multnomah County sheriff’s deputies, despite the request of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler.
It was a designation supposedly made to counter a far-right demonstration last Saturday. But police largely allowed the Proud Boys who attended the rally do whatever they want — including carrying loaded assault weapons in a city park, setting up an armed illegal checkpoint and letting many of them drive without license plates. That night, police directed new levels of violence toward antifascist protesters and members of the press.
Local police deputized as U.S. Marshals can arrest protesters based on federal charges, which typically carry far harsher sentences. And federal deputization of local police calls into question whether police are bound by a preliminary injunction barring them from targeting journalists and legal observers for assault and arrest while covering ongoing protests. It could let police skirt the policy of newly elected Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, who announced Aug. 11 that his office won’t pursue charges against protesters for non-violent offenses.
National leaders of the Proud Boys, designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, claimed for weeks that their Sept. 26 rally in Portland would draw 20,000 of their members from across the country. The claims caused widespread fears of violence and prompted Oregon Governor Kate Brown to declare a state of emergency.
Only a few hundred attendees showed up. Joe Biggs, an organizer of the event, told Courthouse News the outsized estimates were an attempt at “psychological warfare.”
Regardless, the state of emergency allowed Brown to put Oregon State Police in charge of a unified command of local police agencies. State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton then requested that the U.S. Marshals Service deputize local police, according to spokesman Tim Fox. It was a move Hampton was familiar with based on federal deputizations extended to state troopers when they took over active patrols of the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse earlier this summer, in a deal brokered by Gov. Brown to get federal agents out of the public eye and de-escalate nightly protests centered there.
But Hampton’s statement justifying the move made only passing reference to the Proud Boys. Instead, it focused on the difficulty of policing the nightly protests against police brutality that began after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd over the Memorial Day weekend.
“Portland officers have been serving on the front lines of nightly protests for months, sustaining injuries and encountering unspeakable violence. If I am to send them into harm’s way this weekend on my authority, I’m going to ensure they have all the protections and authority of OSP troopers. I want violent individuals thinking about the enhanced penalties they may face if they harm a PPB officer.”
And after a day of remarkably hands-off policing of a hate group, police unleashed new levels of violence on antifascist protesters Saturday night.
Sunday morning, the American Civil Liberties Union called for Brown to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate police brutality in Portland.
“On Saturday, Oregonians who came together to continue to declare that Black lives matter, to reject white supremacy, to repeat calls to defund the police, and to rally against police violence and bias were once again met with disgraceful police uses of force,” Kelly Simon, interim legal director of the ACLU of Oregon said. “Among many abuses, police violently shoved and dispersed journalists, forcefully threw people to the ground, and threatened to destroy the critical supplies of protest medics. We have yet to see most of our government officials reject this form of violence that has long been wreaking havoc in our communities and undermining protected expression.”
Brown dissolved the joint incident command structure Sunday, and issued a statement saying she had asked Hampton, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese and Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell to investigate their own officers’ use of violence the previous evening.
Mayor Wheeler asked for the deputizations to end. In a statement issued late on Tuesday, Wheeler’s office said they had “asked the U.S. Attorney’s office to withdraw the designation.”
“A key feature of the designation is that anyone who assaults a federally deputized official could be subject to federal charges,” the statement said. “Fortunately, I am confident the Multnomah County District Attorney will continue to prosecute anyone who assaults or otherwise harms police officers or others.”
But on Wednesday, U.S. Marshall Burger and U.S. Attorney Williams refused that request.
“Federal cross-deputation of Oregon State Police, Multnomah County Sheriff and Portland Police Bureau personnel underscores the importance of providing accountability and deterrence for these criminal acts,” Burger and Williams said. “Importantly, the federal deputation supports front line law enforcement officers and their families in a way that they have not seen from City Hall.”
Brown created the unified command structure, but her spokesman said in a statement Wednesday that federal deputization does not fall under her control.
“The state of Oregon does not make intra-agency decisions for local law enforcement agencies, including whether those agencies choose to deputize their officers,” Brown spokesman Charles Boyle said Wednesday. “If city and county leaders decide to request the deputization of their officers be rescinded, that is entirely within their purview. Federal deputization is a process overseen by the U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Department of Justice, not our office.”
As it stands, the deputizations will last until Dec. 31.
In the presidential debate Tuesday night, President Donald Trump refused to condemn white supremacy. Instead, he said “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by” — a statement that thrilled the group’s leaders, who immediately incorporated the phrase on branded merchandise.
Simon, the ACLU attorney, called on local leaders to do more to counter hate and police violence.
“We condemn white supremacy, and acknowledge the pain, fear, and psychological and physical harm that events like Proud Boys rallies bring to people in our communities, especially for Black, brown, indigenous and other people of color,” Simon said. “Oregon officials must examine why groups like this continue to target Portland, including how police behavior supports such harm.”