‘Stay away’ Portland mayor tells Trump on offer of federal aid, as DOJ accuses city of siding with rioters

Portland, Oregon mayor Ted Wheeler has rejected federal help in stopping the riots and accused President Donald Trump of “division and demagoguery,” even as the Department of Justice accused the city of abetting the violence.

“No thanks. We don’t need your politics of division and demagoguery,” Wheeler said in an open letter posted on Twitter on Friday. “Your offer to repeat that disaster is a cynical attempt to stoke fear and distract us from the real work of our city.”

Though Portland has been the scene of violent riots directed at both the federal courthouse and the downtown businesses, Wheeler claimed that tens of thousands of Portlanders have “peacefully protested and marched for the noble cause of fixing our broken criminal justice system” as part of a “proud progressive tradition” of fighting for racial, economic and environmental justice.

“There is no place for looting, arson, or vandalism in our city. There is no room here for racist violence or those who wish to bring their ideology of hate into our community. Those who commit criminal acts will be apprehended and prosecuted under the law,” the mayor declared.

The Department of Justice saw the situation differently, however. Earlier in the day, Attorney General William Barr said that Portland city authorities have “abetted the violence through action and inaction,” impeded and neutered the police, and “refused to pursue charges against the rioters.”

It fell on the federal prosecutors in Portland to press charges, which they have so far done against 74 rioters, Barr said. Over 200 federal officers, sent to protect the federal courthouse in Portland, have been injured so far, targeted by “explosives, lasers, projectiles, and other dangerous devices,” the AG added. 

Though Wheeler claimed that Trump’s decision to send federal agents to Portland made the situation “far worse,” the riots began three months ago and have continued even after the bulk of DOJ and Homeland Security officers pulled out, handing the job to state and local police.

The law enforcement had its hands effectively tied for over a month, however, after US District Judge Michael Simon issued an injunction against touching journalists or “legal observers.” 

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Barr’s comments came in response to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturning Simon’s injunction, which the AG called “extensive but vaguely defined” and constraining the police’s ability to do their job. Barr also noted that people posing as journalists and legal observers have either covered for rioters or taken part in the violence themselves.

Wheeler himself had taken part in the protests in late July, just before Simon’s injunction. He was heckled and pressured to resign by the very activists he defended as peaceful and noble in the letter to Trump. 

The mayor only acknowledged the violence earlier this month, berating the people who tried to set a police station on fire, providing footage Trump would use for his re-election campaign.

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Wheeler was weeks ahead of the Democratic Party, which did not mention the unrest at their convention at all, much less condemn it – until post-convention polls showed growing support for Trump and the Republicans spelled out their opposition to the riots.

Congressman Jim Banks (R-Indiana) has even proposed a bill that would charge the rioters convicted of violence, vandalism, or looting for the cost of federal law enforcement. His Support Peaceful Protest Act would also make anyone convicted ineligible for federal unemployment benefits during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The proposal is largely a symbolic gesture, however, because it is unlikely to ever pass in the Democrat-dominated House of Representatives.

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