More than 70 Face Federal Charges Amid Violence in Portland

Police Respond To Continued Protests In Portland
A rioter in Portland in 2020 / Getty Images
August 28, 2020

Arson, damaging government property, and assaulting a federal officer are among the charges 74 people face for violence and mayhem committed in Portland, Ore., over the past three months, the Department of Justice announced Friday.

Federal authorities have arrested some 100 people in Portland since the end of May, as anti-police protests have regularly given way to what DOJ called "vandalism and destruction." Of those, 74 face federal felonies, misdemeanors, and citations. Hundreds more have been arrested by state and local law enforcement looking to reestablish order.

"Violent agitators have hijacked any semblance of First Amendment protected activity, engaging in violent criminal acts and destruction of public safety," U.S. attorney Billy J. Williams said. "The U.S. Attorney's Office and our federal law enforcement partners are expeditiously working with local and state law enforcement to identify, arrest, and prosecute these individuals that are disrupting the rule of law in our communities and physically attacking our law enforcement officers and destroying property. Violent agitators not only delay real reform, but make our community less safe by keeping law enforcement from responding to other critical calls for service."

More than half of those charged are alleged to have assaulted a federal officer—a crime that, DOJ noted, can lead to up to 20 years in prison if done with a dangerous weapon. A further four face arson charges, some tied to protests at the federal courthouse in Portland that protesters repeatedly assaulted over several nights earlier this month. Federal arson carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, with a mandatory minimum of five.

"While the FBI supports and safeguards constitutionally protected activity and civil rights, there is no permit for assault, arson or property damage and these are not victimless crimes," Renn Cannon, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon, said. "Among the victims of violent crime are business owners, residents and individuals exercising their First Amendment rights through protests or other legitimate forms of expression."

The ongoing unrest in Portland has made the city a flashpoint in the debate over the spike in looting and violent crime that was preceded by the onset of mass protests in at least some cities. President Donald Trump has called on the city to re-accept federal law enforcement after they initially withdrew from the city at the end of last month. Oregon governor Kate Brown (D.) on Tuesday said that "it's time for the violence and vandalism to end," specifically so "Portland can focus on the important work to be done to achieve real change for racial justice."