WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump condemned protests in Portland, Oregon, and violence in “Democrat-run” cities on Sunday as his Republican administration moves to intervene in urban centers he says have lost control of anti-racism demonstrations.
Federal law enforcement officers, armed with a new executive order aimed at protecting U.S. monuments, last week started cracking down on crowds gathering in Portland to protest police brutality and systemic racism.
After a chaotic night in Portland that saw a police association building set on fire and officers shooting tear gas at a group of mothers protesting police brutality, Trump and Portland’s mayor traded barbs over who was to blame for the escalating unrest.
“We are trying to help Portland, not hurt it. Their leadership has, for months, lost control of the anarchists and agitators. They are missing in action. We must protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE,” Trump wrote in a Twitter post.
Facing declining polling numbers before his Nov. 3 election against Democrat Joe Biden, Trump is making “law and order” a central campaign issue to appeal to critical suburban voters.
The crackdown in the liberal bastion of Portland drew widespread criticism and legal challenges as videos surfaced of camouflage-clad officers without clear identification badges using force and unmarked vehicles to arrest protesters without explanation.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said on Sunday that it was federal authorities who were sharply escalating the situation.
“Their presence here is actually leading to more violence and more vandalism,” Wheeler said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “And it’s not helping the situation at all. They’re not wanted here. We haven’t asked them here. In fact, we want them to leave.”
Wheeler and Oregon Governor Kate Brown, both Democrats, called the move an abuse of power by the federal government and the state filed a lawsuit against the U.S. agencies involved.
On Sunday, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives demanded internal investigations into whether the Justice and Homeland Security departments “abused emergency authorities” in handling the Portland protests.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Attorney General William Barr and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf are working on measures the administration can take to counter the unrest.
“You’ll see something rolled out this week as we start to go in and make sure that the communities, whether it’s Chicago or Portland, or Milwaukee, or someplace across the heartland of the country, we need to make sure our communities are safe,” Meadows said on “Sunday Morning Futures.”
The announcement is expected to expand a new Justice Department initiative that sends federal law enforcement into cities facing protests.
In Portland on Saturday night, Melanie Damm said she saw unidentified federal officers in military-style gear fired tear gas canisters into a group of mothers, clad mostly in white, who were protesting against police brutality.
“The level of violence escalated by these GI soldiers was such an overreaction. You’re seeing moms getting tear-gassed,” said Damm, herself a 39-year-old mom. “We aren’t young and Antifa-looking,” she said, referring to more militant anti-fascism protesters.
In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Trump attributed the increase in violence in cities such as Chicago and New York by saying “they’re Democrat-run cities, they are liberally run. They are stupidly run.”
The Republican president last month threatened to send U.S. military troops to quell protests that erupted over police brutality and racism after the killing of a Black man, George Floyd, by a Minneapolis police officer.
Oregon’s attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, on Friday filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. Marshals Service, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), saying they had violated peoples’ civil rights by seizing and detaining them without probable cause.
Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Heather Timmons, Sonya Hepinstall and Diane Craft