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US official visits Portland, calls protesters 'anarchists'

PORTLAND, Ore. – The head of the Department of Homeland Security visited Portland, Oregon, on Thursday, just hours after issuing a scathing statement that called the protesters who have taken to the streets every night for nearly two months “violent anarchists" and a "violent mob” that have kept the liberal Northwest city under siege.

Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, whose visit was met with anger from local officials, said state and city authorities are to blame for not putting an end to 47 days of protests in Portland that have increasingly targeted the federal courthouse.

The protests in Oregon’s largest city following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have often devolved into violent clashes between smaller groups and the police. The unrest has caused deep divisions in a city that prides itself on its activism and progressive reputation.

“Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it,” Wolf wrote.

"Instead of addressing violent criminals in their communities, local and state leaders are instead focusing on placing blame on law enforcement and requesting fewer officers in their community. This failed response has only emboldened the violent mob as it escalates violence day after day,” his statement said.

Federal officers recently sent to Portland by President Donald Trump have escalated tensions in the past two weeks, particularly after an officer with the U.S. Marshals Service fired a less-lethal round at a protester’s head on July 11, critically injuring him.

Mayor Ted Wheeler and other local officials have said they didn't ask for help from federal law enforcement and have asked them to leave.

“A number of people have asked if I know DHS leadership is in town, and if I’m going to meet with them. We’re aware that they’re here. We wish they weren’t. We haven’t been invited to meet with them, and if we were, we would decline," Wheeler tweeted Thursday.

Democratic Gov. Kate Brown called Wolf’s visit “political theater from President Trump” and said he “is looking for a confrontation in Oregon in the hopes of winning political points in Ohio or Iowa."

The state's four Democratic federal lawmakers also sent a letter this week to Wolf and U.S. Attorney General William Barr to oppose the federal deployment in Portland.

Demonstrators have set fires, launched fireworks and sprayed graffiti on public buildings, including police precincts and the U.S. courthouse. Federal and local authorities have responded with tear gas and dozens of arrests.

A temporary federal court order banned Portland police from using tear gas unless a riot was declared after officers fired it multiple times to dispel crowds. Federal agents have used tear gas at least twice since their arrival over the Fourth of July weekend, prompting concerns that they are being used to circumvent the court order.

Before Wolf arrived, Portland police arrested nine people early Thursday as they cleared protesters from two parks near the courthouse. It wasn’t immediately clear if the parks were cleared because of the visit.

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Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus.