Portland ‘moms’, nurses and veterans join protests at deployment of federal officers

These violent scenes do Portland no favours. They play into Donald Trump’s narrative of a city under siege when the reality is very different.

The metal fence put up by federal agents in the Oregon city to protect them and the courthouse from protesters was pulled down last night.

After the now familiar exchange of fireworks, tear gas and rubber bullets the officers, dressed in tactical and riot gear, retreated inside the courthouse.

Protesters broke down the fence placed around Portland's courthouse
Image:Protesters broke down the fence placed around Portland’s courthouse

Little surprise given the crowd of protesters was around five times as big as the night before.

From a high vantage point inside the courthouse the officers kept watch, intermittently throwing tear gas canisters at protesters seeking to pull down the new fence that has surrounded the building in recent days.

Exactly two months to the day since the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, the crowds were always expected to be big.

Portland, a city known for its strong sense of activism, has protested in support of Black Lives Matter ever since.

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The demonstrations though had dwindled to a hundred or so hardcore protesters until the deployment of federal officers by Donald Trump earlier this month.

It is highly likely the majority of these protesters would not be on the streets if the agents were not here. Thousands of people have only mobilised since their arrival.

Mothers have joined the growing protests
Image:Mothers have joined the growing protests

In response to last night’s violent scenes, Donald Trump said on Twitter: “The ‘protesters’ are actually anarchists who hate our country. The line of innocent ‘mothers’ were a scam that Lamestream refuses to acknowledge, just like they don’t report the violence of these demonstrations!”

This is simply not true. There are people here who are violent and may be better described as rioters. But, they are a minority by a long way.

Thousands of others have taken to the streets to peacefully protest since the arrival of agents from a new federal unit created by Donald Trump last month to protect monuments and federal property.

Federal officers put up a fence around Portland's courthouse but it was pulled down by protesters
Image:Federal officers put up a fence around Portland’s courthouse but it was pulled down by protesters

Each evening, in the surroundings of the federal courthouse, groups organise themselves to march and protest.

A group of “Portland moms” was formed last Saturday after a call to arms by one mother to do something. 2,000 responded and now form a “wall of moms” each night – a show of protest and a bid to maintain peace.

They are easy to spot because they wear yellow and some carry sunflowers. They are often out in their hundreds and “grandmothers of Portland” have started turning out too.

“I feel like sometimes mums are the last resort,” said Holly Waud who has two children and a cake business in Portland.

“We’re the people nobody expects to come out, right? We’re the people at home taking care of the kids so I think it means every sector of society has been affected.

Veterans were among the protesters in Portland
Image:Veterans were among the protesters in Portland

“I don’t think the tear gas is always aimed at some of those being violent because one of my employees comes out here on a regular basis and he’s been shot.

“He got shot with a tear gas canister just last night in the head and he’s not a violent person.

“I know he’s not a violent person. He’s not throwing anything. He’s marching around and chanting.”

Black Lives Matter remains the core cause of people demonstrating here. But the deployment of federal agents to Portland, without the invitation of local police or local authorities, has ignited anger and prompted a return to the streets.

The move is seen by many as unconstitutional and has caused outrage among residents and local officials.

After 12 nights of violence, the intense and dangerous stand off between federal officers and protesters shows no sign of ending soon.

If anything, it’s gaining momentum. New people are joining the protest each day.

A new contingent of nurses now marches each evening too. Their arrival into the park opposite the federal courthouse was met with applause by other protesters.

Portland: A city under siege, overrun with anarchists? It's a far more complex picture

Portland: A city under siege, overrun with anarchists? It’s a far more complex picture

Veterans also formed their own group just four days ago and now march into the park from the opposite direction.

“We swore an oath to defend the constitution,” said Tessa Terry who served eight years in the US navy.

“We will stand as a shield between protesters and those who would violate those rights. We are not trying to change the narrative of the protests we support.

“We help make their message heard by showing our support.”

Sally Lockwood spoke to mothers, fathers, nurses and grandparents protesting for Black Lives Matter in Portland
Image:Sally Lockwood spoke to mothers, fathers, nurses and grandparents protesting for Black Lives Matter in Portland

And when the mums showed up, the “dads of Portland” turned out too. The call for dads to bring leaf blowers to repel the tear gas makes them easy to identify as well.

Father-of-two Ian and I shouted to each other through gas masks in last night’s crowd.

Armed with his leafblower, it was only his second night of protest.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. I would never have believed that something like this could happen in an advanced democracy but here we are,” he said.

“The people I’ve been talking to here tonight, they’re teachers, nurses, physiotherapists. They are not so-called professional protesters.”

The arrival of federal officers earlier this month has prompted a surge in protesters
Image:The arrival of federal officers earlier this month has prompted a surge in protesters

Four civil rights lawsuits have so far been filed in response to federal involvement here.

This came as violent scenes also emerged in Seattle after more officers from the same unit are deployed to other Democrat-run cities.

US media reports say several dozen more federal officers are also being deployed to Portland while federal officials are said to be acknowledging internally that they have contributed to the quick escalation between law enforcement and protesters.

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Professor Robert Tsai, from the American University Washington College of Law in Washington DC, said the agents dressed in full military gear play into a strategy president Trump, a former reality star himself, knows all too well – the power of image.

“Trump is using the images of the Portland protests in a presidential ad campaign to present a darker, more menacing view of the Democratic city,” he said.

There is no question much of the violence is a direct response to the arrival of federal agents sent to “restore order”.

But the ugly scenes that have followed their arrival could still prove helpful images for Mr Trump’s campaign on law and order.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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