For weeks, federal agents with the Department of Homeland Security laid siege to the city of Portland to suppress the voices of those demanding justice for Black lives. The militarized agents used sharpshooters to maim people, swept protesters away in unmarked cars, and brutally attacked journalists, legal observers, and medics with sonic weapons and tear gas. They didn’t spare moms, dads, veterans, nurses, or even the city’s mayor.
The agency’s lawlessness was so profound that a federal court in Portland issued a restraining order against the agency after the ACLU filed suit. Congress held numerous hearings. The agency’s inspector general opened an investigation. Even former leaders of the Department of Homeland Security decried its abuses. Richard Clarke, who served on the National Security Council for Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, called for dismantling DHS.
The administration’s effort to use its response to the protests in Portland as some twisted campaign prop miserably backfired, and the agents were forced to retreat. Now, recognizing that he’s in hot water, Chad Wolf, who was illegally appointed as head of DHS, is on a media tour in an attempt to rewrite history.
But the truth was caught on video for the world to see. No press interview, no op-ed, and no statement by any administration official can undo the fact that DHS agents beat a Navy veteran for simply asking them questions. They can’t hide the viral video of unmarked federal agents — later identified to be with DHS — hauling a protester off the streets of Portland into an unmarked vehicle. They can’t make us forget the sight of DHS agents firing tear gas at individuals simply exercising their right to protest, or beating and dragging off medics providing aid to an unconscious bystander. They also can’t erase the decades of abuse, civil rights violations, killings, and discriminatory surveillance of Black, Brown, and immigrant communities.
Wolf did get one fact right: “Courthouses uphold everyone’s rights.” The federal court in Portland did uphold the people’s rights when DHS brought its police state tactics there. It ordered the agency to stop arresting and attacking journalists and legal observers. But DHS didn’t comply with the court order — even after the court issued its restraining order, the agency continued to attack journalists and legal observers.
An agency claiming to defend the courthouse should, at a minimum, obey the orders coming out of it.
As we have for a century — much longer than DHS has been around — the ACLU will continue to unapologetically defend the Constitution from all those who undermine it. This includes the Department of Homeland Security. DHS is too powerful, too abusive, and too much of a threat to America’s democratic values. As ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero and former Bush administration official Richard Clarke put it, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.