Barr: Portland protests 'an assault on U.S. government'
A photo of wounded Lewis & Clark College history professor Maureen Healy entered the Congressional record Tuesday morning during a judiciary committee hearing featuring Attorney General William Barr.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Houston Democrat, asked before questioning Barr at the July 28 hearing that a Twitter photo showing Healy's bleeding head be entered into committee hearing records. Healy was wounded by a crowd-control weapon during a July 21 downtown Portland protest outside the federal Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse.
Healy wrote on Twitter that she was "protesting peacefully" when she was shot in the head by federal officers outside the federal courthouse. "I wanted to, and will continue to, exercise my First Amendment right to speak," Healy wrote. "Federal troops have been sent to my city to extinguish these peaceful protests. I was not damaging federal property. I was in a crowd with at least a thousand other ordinary people. I was standing in a public space."
During his more than two hours of Capitol Hill testimony, Barr told the committee that Portland's two months of nightly protests and clashes with law enforcement were an assault on federal authority. "What unfolds around the courthouse every night cannot reasonably be called protest," Barr told the committee. "It is an assault on the United States government.
"In Portland the courthouse is under attack. The federal resources inside the perimeter are also under attack. The protesters have set fires. We're on the defense, we're not out looking for trouble. If the state and the city would provide other law enforcement services we would be able to stand down."
Demanding a cease-fire
Thousands of people have gathered nightly since late May in a two- or three-block area of downtown Portland to support the Black Lives Matter movement protesting police actions against unarmed Black people. Most of the protests focus on the federal courthouse and Multnomah County Justice Center on Southwest Third Avenue, but rallies have been held in other parts of the city.
According to Portland police, during late-night and early morning hours some protesters have thrown objects at officers and federal agents outside the courthouse, set small fires, pried plywood from the building's windows, damaged a fence around the building, damaged downtown statues, shined lasers into officers' eyes and pointed fireworks at the courthouse. People have arrested dozens of people in connection with the damage.
U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams said 22 people have been arrested and are facing federal charges for their roles in weekend protests at the courthouse.
State and city officials have called for federal agents to leave, saying they have spurred more and violent protests at the courthouse. Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Jo Anne Hardesty have demanded a meeting with Homeland Security officials to establish a cease-fire in the city.
Antifa actions under investigation
Barr told the committee that 29 members of the U.S. Marshals Service were sent to Portland nearly a month ago to help protect the federal courthouse. Another 95 officers from the Department of Homeland Security's protective services have reinforced the marshals, he said.
"We gradually increased our numbers there to increase our capability," Barr told the committee. "If the state would come in and keep order in the streets we would leave."
Barr also told the committee that Portland's "peaceful protests have been hijacked by a core of violent people." He also said the federal Department of Justice was investigating actions by Antifa members as domestic terrorism. He declined to provide details of the investigation.
"Antifa has been heavily represented in the recent riots and involved in a number of the violent mob actions around the country," Barr said. "We are concerned about this kind of thing metastasizing around the country. We can't get to the level where we accept these kinds of attacks on the federal courts to continue."
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