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Portland protesters on being detained, chased by federal agents as situation intensifies

-violent anarchists have repeatedly thrown paint-filled balloons, rocks, and metal pipes at law enforcement officers-violent anarchists have repeatedly torn down protective fencing around courthouses-a violent anarchist assaulted federal law enforcement with a hammer— Acting Secretary Chad Wolf (@DHS_Wolf) July 16, 2020 Trump had praised the work of federal agents in Portland at a news conference…

-violent anarchists have repeatedly thrown paint-filled balloons, rocks, and metal pipes at law enforcement officers

-violent anarchists have repeatedly torn down protective fencing around courthouses

-a violent anarchist assaulted federal law enforcement with a hammer

— Acting Secretary Chad Wolf (@DHS_Wolf) July 16, 2020

Trump had praised the work of federal agents in Portland at a news conference Monday. “We’re going to have more federal law enforcement, that I can tell you. In Portland, they’ve done a fantastic job,” Trump said.

Although the president may be pleased, others are not. On July 16, the ACLU’s interim executive director in Oregon, Jann Carson, said that the grabbing of people by agents and putting them into unmarked vehicles is typically referred to as kidnapping.

“The actions of the militarized federal officers are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered,” Carson said in a statement.

While there’s been heavy criticism of the use of federal agents in Portland, Wolf defended the department’s actions in a Tuesday press conference.

“The law is clear on what our authority entails. Specifically, federal statute states that the secretary of homeland security, and I’m quoting, ‘shall protect buildings, grounds and property that are owned, occupied and secured by the federal government,'” Wolf said. “The law goes on to state that the department can conduct investigations, again I’m quoting, ‘on and off property in question, on offenses that may have been committed against property owned and occupied by the federal government or persons on that property.’”

Judge Simon’s temporary restraining order came in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU Oregon chapter against DHS and the U.S. Marshals Service. The ACLU had announced on July 17 that it sought to block federal law enforcement from dispersing, arresting or using physical force against journalists or legal observers in Portland.

“This order is a victory for the rule of law,”Carson said in a statement Thursday night. “Federal agents from Trump’s Departments of Homeland Security and Justice are terrorizing the community, threatening lives, and relentlessly attacking journalists and legal observers documenting protests.”

On July 18, Customs and Border Protection, an agency part of DHS, said it does not comment on pending litigation.

On July 22 the ACLU also announced the filing of another lawsuit on behalf of volunteer medics who are suing DHS, the Marshals Service and the city of Portland, claiming that they targeted and attacked them during the Portland protests. The Portland mayor’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit, and the U.S. Marshal’s Service said they are aware of the lawsuit, but don’t comment on pending litigation. DHS did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

In recent days the stories of other protesters have also come to light.

Conner O’Shea, a 30-year-old Portland resident, who has been visiting protest sites for the past two weeks, said he was chased down by federal agents on July 15 near Chapman Square. Prior to this encounter, O’Shea said he and a friend were attending a peaceful demonstration and had decided to walk home at around 2 in the morning.

That’s when the night took a terrifying turn.

After walking a few blocks from the main demonstration, O’Shea said an unmarked van pulled up to him and his friend, and several agents dressed in camouflage jumped out and started chasing them.

“They don’t say anything. They just start charging at us. We all start running in different directions. I almost got hit by a car,” O’Shea said.

“What’s going through my head,” O’Shea said, “I’m going to get taken away by these people. I may never see anybody again. … Am I going to die?”

O’Shea, who evaded detention by hiding, said the encounter with federal agents was one of scariest experiences of his life. He added that what he and other Portland residents have gone through, being chased down by federal agents, has been strange and horrifying.

“I just hope people in other cities can kind of see this, as this feels like the staging area for Trump setting up a police state,” O’Shea said. “That’s what this feels like.”

Image: Suzanne CiechalskiSuzanne Ciechalski

Suzanne Ciechalski is a New York-based reporter for NBC News’ Social Newsgathering team specializing in verification and social discovery. 

Shamar Walters

Shamar Walters is a reporter for NBC News’ Social Newsgathering team based in New York City.

Janhvi Bhojwani

Janhvi Bhojwani is a desk assistant with NBC News in Washington, DC.

Jareen Imam

Jareen Imam is director of Social Newsgathering for NBC News, leading a global team of journalists who find, verify and report on stories using social forensic techniques and open source intelligence tools.

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