Who Won the Battle of Portland?
How the liberal city’s uprising turned back Trump’s authoritarian revival of ‘law and order’ politics
ummer morning light, the federal courthouse is eerily calm. The perimeter of the Mark O. Hatfield building, a 16-story high-rise occupying a block of downtown Portland, Oregon, emerged in July as the front line for nightly assaults by federal agents against Black Lives Matter protesters, whom President Trump labeled “sick and deranged Anarchists & Agitators.”
The pretext for the incursion of federal forces into Portland — where unidentified armed agents in fatigues snatched protesters and shoved them into unmarked vans — was defacement of this courthouse. But the criminal mischief against the building was modest, according to the government’s own reckoning: “in excess of $50,000” — or roughly the cost of a used Winnebago.
The courthouse only gathered more spray paint after the feds arrived. “Send home Trump’s piglets,” reads one graffito. “Fuck DHS,” reads another, targeting the Department of Homeland Security, which has resembled a tin-pot interior ministry while carrying out Trump’s “Operation Diligent Valor.”
The violent occupation of an American city — over the objection of state and local elected leaders — by irregular federal forces, in league with the city’s reactionary police, seemed for a vertiginous moment like it could mark America’s free fall into fascism. But everyday residents of Portland rose in resistance, including suburban moms who put their bodies between the feds and younger BLM protesters. The government response was extreme. Federal agents shot nonviolent protesters and reporters in their faces with riot munitions, fracturing the skull of one. Trump’s little green men unleashed cloud banks of tear gas — a munition banned by the Geneva Convention — at one point turning an exterminator’s fogger on Americans exercising their First Amendment rights.
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