Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf issued a stern warning to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler in a Monday letter, saying that the federal government “will have no choice but to protect our American citizens” if unrest continues.
Portland has been the site of ongoing protests fueled by the death of George Floyd and shooting of Jacob Blake. While protests have been largely peaceful, the Trump administration has focused on bursts of violence.
“Due to a lack of action throughout the summer, Portland and its law-abiding residents continue to suffer from large-scale looting, arson, and vandalism – even killing. Businesses remain shuttered and Portlanders are held hostage by the daily violence that has gripped the city with no end in sight,” Wolf said in the letter to Wheeler, urging him to accept federal law enforcement assistance.
Wolf’s letter, released by the Department of Homeland Security Tuesday, comes after Wheeler sent an open letter to President Donald Trump declining federal assistance to the city. Wolf and Attorney General William Barr met with Trump Monday to discuss unrest in cities.
On Saturday night, a man was fatally shot in downtown Portland, amid clashes between pro-Trump groups and left-wing protesters.
The Justice Department said Tuesday that it was not investigating peaceful protestors after a Fox News host popular with the President and the acting Homeland Security chief complained that the leaders of left-wing movements had not been arrested.
“Why haven’t we seen the leaders of Antifa and BLM arrested and charged for conspiracy under say RICO, like the heads of the mafia families were?” Tucker Carlson, the conservative news anchor, asked Wolf Monday night on his Fox News program, referring to Black Lives Matter and the federal law for racketeering.
“It’s something I’ve talked to the A.G. personally about, and I know that they are working on it,” Wolf replied, adding that the Justice Department was “certainly moving as quickly as possible.”
“Like you, Tucker, I wish that moved in a little quicker fashion,” Wolf said.
Three hundred people have been charged by federal prosecutors in cases stemming from the months of unrest that have unfolded alongside the nationwide reckoning with racial injustice and police brutality.
Trump and Attorney General William Barr have consistently blamed the majority of the violence on so-called left-wing agitators, like Antifa, although none of the federal charges so far have referenced the anti-government movement. A handful of the cases have, however, been linked to far-right extremist groups.
On Monday, Wolf also said that the Justice Department was “targeting and investigating the head of these organizations, the individuals that are paying for these individuals to move across the country.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said Tuesday that the agency’s investigations were related to “coordinated, criminal activity” and would not infringe on peoples’ right to protest and free speech.
“We are investigating coordinated, criminal activity – not First Amendment activity – and violence related to riots, destruction of federal property, and violence against law enforcement officers,” Kerri Kupec, spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said.
In June, Barr launched a task force to investigate the “individuals, networks, and movements” of anti-government extremists in an attempt to “understand these groups well enough that we can stop such violence before it occurs.”
The task force has been quiet about it’s work publicly. Last month, Barr and the heads of the task force hosted a summit with state and local law enforcement leaders at the Department of Justice about the extremist groups.
Trump has railed against Wheeler for not taking control of the situation in Portland, while Wheeler has accused the President of stoking hate and division.
In July, the Trump administration sent federal law enforcement personnel into Portland to protect a federal courthouse in the city’s downtown.
But Wheeler and other local officials claimed their presence escalated the protests and called for their withdrawal as the federal officers clashed with demonstrators, wore military-style fatigues, and made arrests in unmarked vehicles.
Wolf, who had visited the city in mid-July, has defended the actions by his department.
This story has been updated.