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Federal Agents in Unmarked Minivans Detain Protestors in Portland, According to Reports

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Updated: | Originally published:

Federal law enforcement officers, dressed in camouflage and driving in unmarked vehicles, have been detaining protestors in Portland, Ore., according to local reports and videos shared online. Demonstrations have been ongoing in Portland since the police killing of George Floyd in late May.

Federal agents have detained and forced individuals into unmarked vans in recent days, two demonstrators in Portland told Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) on Thursday. Mark Pettibone, a demonstrator detained on Wednesday, told OPB he was taken to a federal courthouse and later released, but that he was not given any official notice of the arrest.

“I [was] basically tossed into the van,” he said.

Officers from federal agencies have been present in Portland since at least July 2, according to the Department of Homeland Security, which has sent units to the city. Law enforcement has also been deployed by the U.S. Marshals Service and other agencies. Per OPB, federal officers in unmarked vehicles have detained protestors since July 14.

Federal agents from units with the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Marshals Service have been deployed to guard federal property in Portland amid the protests. Demonstrators in downtown Portland allege, however, that federal law enforcement are also taking individuals — who are not posing a threat to federal property — from the streets without explanation. Pettibone, who was with another protestor, Conner O’Shea, when federal officers appeared, said the two had frequently attended demonstrations, but had not done anything illegal.

“I just happened to be wearing black on a sidewalk in downtown Portland,” Pettibone said. “And that apparently is grounds for detaining me.”

Footage posted online by protestors show others being mistreated in the same way. In one video that has circulated widely online, two federal officers walk up to a demonstrator and put them into an unmarked minivan before driving away. They say nothing to indicate why they’re detaining the protestor.

In an email to TIME a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security said Border Patrol agents were sent to Portland to support a task force carrying out President Trump’s executive order on protecting monuments. DHS referred to protestors as “violent anarchists” and said “criminal actions” against federal property and officers would “not be tolerated.” DHS did not comment on Pettibone’s arrest.

In another email referring to the individual in the video posted online, DHS said that agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection “had information indicating the person in the video was suspected of assaults against federal agents or destruction of federal property.” According to DHS, the agents identified themselves and were wearing insignias for CBP during the incident, but that their names were not displayed due to risks of doxxing.

“Once CBP agents approached the suspect, a large and violent mob moved towards their location,” the agency said. “For everyone’s safety, CBP agents quickly moved the suspect to a safer location for further questioning.”

DHS did not answer questions about the use of unmarked vans in detaining protestors. Representatives for the U.S. Marshals Service did not immediately respond to requests for comment on why protestors were arrested and on the use of unmarked vehicles to detain them. In a statement to OPB, the U.S. Marshals Service said the agency did not arrest Pettibone.

Violence against protestors by federal law enforcement escalated on Thursday, after Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf visited Portland to meet with federal officials and called protestors “lawless anarchists” and a “violent mob.” Wolf also blamed state and local officials for allowing the protests to continue since Floyd’s death.

Following Wolf’s stop in Portland, hundreds of people protested in the city on Thursday night. The Oregonian reports that federal officers responded by deploying tear gas, smoke and less-lethal rounds to quell the protests.

Local and state officials have objected to the presence of federal law enforcement in the city. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said he would not meet with federal officials, and called on the White House to remove the “heightened troop presence.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown called the use of federal officers in Portland a “blatant abuse of power” by Trump.

“I told Acting Secretary Wolf that the federal government should remove all federal officers from our streets. His response showed me he is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes,” Brown tweeted. “He is putting both Oregonians and local law enforcement officers in harm’s way.”

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Write to Mahita Gajanan at mahita.gajanan@time.com