Portland: Feds suffer 277 injuries but no lasting blindness
A top official with the Department of Homeland Security contradicted reports of "permanent blindness" inflicted on federal officers guarding a U.S. district courthouse in Portland.
Homeland Security's acting deputy secretary, Ken Cuccinelli, told a U.S. Senate subcommittee Tuesday, Aug. 4, that at least 277 injuries had been inflicted on the approximately 140 federal agents stationed at the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse in downtown Portland.
"We've had a number of officers who had days-long blindness. So far, they've all kind of come back, if you will. But you also get what's called flash blindness," Cuccinelli said during the hearing, titled Protecting Free Speech and Preventing Violent Protests.
The testimony contradicted earlier comments made on July 24 by White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany — reported by the New York Post, Forbes and widely repeated online — that three officers were "likely left permanently blinded."
McEnany may have been playing a game of telephone with the deputy director of the Federal Protective Service, who had earlier described eye injuries that three officers "may not recover sight in."
Cuccinelli said eye injuries were the most common form of trauma inflicted on agents, with 113 such injuries counted, followed by noise injuries and injuries caused by contact with an object.
Flashing a blue-hued laser across the room, the deputy secretary noted that such high-powered tools were commercially available for purchase from online retailers, and likened the spotty vision they caused to the flash of an old-fashioned Kodak camera. He said some protesters cut holes in handmade shields in order to shine the lasers from short range, where they are most powerful.
"Within a second you'll yank your hand back, because it burns," noted Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee.
Despite responding to more than 900 protests near federal facilities each year on average, Cuccinelli said those in Portland were unprecedented since the Federal Protective Service was founded in 1971.
"Forty-nine years … they have never seen anything like Portland," he said. "Rioters are not protesters, and protesters are not rioters."
Oregon's two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both spoke during the hearing, tangling with its Republican membership over whether federal officers' shoulder badges and somewhat generic police insignia counted as identification.
"Officers with no identity, attacking protesters, sweeping someone into unmarked vans, are the tactics of secret police around the world," Merkley said.
Cuccinelli said each federal officer is identifiable by agency and individually, but that officers do not wear name tags for fear of having their personal details spread online. The Portland Police Bureau has cited similar fears of "doxing" when removing their own nameplates.
"The use of unmarked vehicles by law enforcement is common to avoid attacks by criminals on a nightly basis," said Cuccinelli, explaining that Customs & Border Protection units appeared in camo outside the Portland courthouse because they were rapidly redeployed and "they came with what they had."
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Erin Nealy Cox said the FBI had opened more than 300 domestic terrorism investigations since May 28, but has been stymied in some cases by the use of end-to-end encrypted messaging apps, such as Signal.
Two well-known Portlanders on opposite sides of the political spectrum — Nkenge Harmon Johnson, CEO of the Urban League of Portland, and Post Millennial editor Andy Ngo — also spoke at the hearing.
Harmon Johnson said her ancestors included kidnapped Africans who, in later generations, became postal carriers, law enforcement officers and veterans, and yet "none of us has yet to enjoy the full rights due to Americans citizens under the Constitution."
Ngo said a shadowy chapter of the Youth Liberation Front had coordinated many of the nightly sieges outside the courthouse and Multnomah County Justice Center. "Antifa is not a myth," he said, using a term for anti-fascists. "Its threat to me and my family have proved all too real."
Earlier in the day, Chris David — the Navy veteran now known as Captain Portland after he took blow after blow from a federal baton without yielding — addressed a Democratic roundtable convened by a civil liberties subcommittee.
"There is one thing that gives me hope," he said, "and that is the many people from different backgrounds who are raising their voices against this outrage."
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