UPDATE: The tear gas incident between the “Wall of Moms” and the feds has sparked a nationwide movement. Read through the article or skip to the end for the update.
Federal agents deployed to Portland, Oregon over the weekend reportedly tear-gassed a group of moms who were protecting peaceful protesters. Witnesses say the “Wall of Moms” had gathered in front of a federal courthouse to protest against police brutality when feds used flashbangs and tear gas to clear the area. The incident follows growing controversy around President Trump’s decision to deploy federal troops to quell demonstrations in the Northwestern city.
Building a “Wall of Moms”
Organizer Bev Barnum initiated the “Wall of Moms” protest in response to news stories of unidentified federal agents forcing Portland citizens into unmarked vehicles during protests.
A crowd of about 400 has now occupied both SW 3rd and SW Main.— Lindsey Smith (she/her) (@LindseyPSmith7) July 19, 2020
The moms are chanting, “Feds stay clear! Moms are here!” at the federal courthouse.
All three fences are still up. pic.twitter.com/jhJ09NUxGW
“As most of you have read and seen on the news, [protesters] are being hurt (without cause),” a statement on the event’s Facebook page read. “And as of late, [protesters] are being stripped of their rights by being placed in unmarked cars by unidentifiable law enforcement.”
The Facebook invite urged mothers to gather on Saturday, July 18, to protest the actions of federal agents. It also recommended the peaceful participants prepare for conflict nonetheless.
“It is advisable that we prepared for the worst possible outcome — violence. With that in mind, wear a helmet,” the invite read. Attendees were also advised that the use of tear gas by authorities was possible.
A Forceful Response
These concerns appeared to come to fruition on Saturday night when the group convened in front of the Mark O. Hatfield US Courthouse in Portland. Buzzfeed News reports that the demonstration continued until 10:45 pm, when federal officers deployed tear gas, flashbangs, and batons against the crowd.
Melanie Damm, a local mom who participated in the Saturday demonstration, described the aggression that met protesters to the Daily Mail.
“The level of violence escalated by these GI solders was such an overreaction. You’re seeing moms getting tear-gassed,” she said. “We’re not young and Antifa-looking.”
However, the Wall of Moms remained undaunted, convening again at a protest the following day. Video shows protesters toppling a temporary fence around the courthouse before feds respond with what appear to be flashbangs and tear gas.
Freelance journalist Garrison Davis, who took footage at the scene, told NBC News some of the protesters were mothers whose children had been gassed in previous demonstrations.
“There’s definitely some parents and teens out there together,” he said.
Some moms hold the line against a growing wall of teargas. #teargas #MomsAreHere #blacklivesmatter #protest #pdx #portland #oregon #blm #acab #PortlandProtest #PDXprotest #PortlandPolice #Feds pic.twitter.com/vVlBZKRfFy— Garrison Davis (Teargas Proof) (@hungrybowtie) July 20, 2020
Feds Under Scrutiny
The conflicts follow reports of unidentified federal agents forcing Portland citizens into unmarked vehicles without explanation.
On Friday, July 17, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum filed a lawsuit against multiple federal agencies over the reports, according to USA Today. The suit seeks to bar federal agents from making arrests without cause or warrant. It also requires them to identify themselves and their agency when making arrests.
The suit contains a statement from Mark Pettibone, a man who was arrested by federal agents after a Black Lives Matter protest.
“Without warning, men in green military fatigues and adorned with generic ‘police’ patches, jumped out of an unmarked minivan and approached me,” Pettibone said. “I did not know whether the men were police or far-right extremists, who, in my experience, frequently don military-like outfits and harass left-leaning protesters in Portland.”
Pettibone said his first instinct was to run, but the agents caught up with him and forced him into the vehicle.
“Ordinarily, a person exercising his right to walk through the streets of Portland who is confronted by anonymous men in military-type fatigues and ordered into an unmarked van can reasonably assume that he is being kidnapped and is the victim of a crime,” he said.
Authoritarian governments, not democratic republics, send unmarked authorities after protesters. These Trump/Barr tactics designed to eliminate any accountability are absolutely unacceptable in America, and must end. pic.twitter.com/PE4YfZ9Vqd— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) July 16, 2020
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed its own lawsuit against the Trump administration, while Oregon Governor Kate Brown also condemned the use of federal troops.
“This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety,” she said in a tweet. “The president is failing to lead this nation. Now he is deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland in a blatant abuse of power by the federal government.”
However, acting Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli defended the administration in a statement to CNN on Monday, July 20.
“Unmarked police vehicles are so common it’s barely worth discussion,” the acting secretary said, before adding, “We will maintain our presence.”
UPDATE – July 23, 2020
News of confrontations between feds and the “Wall of Moms” has spread throughout the nation, and now new chapters are popping up in more major cities and states. CNN is reporting that new Wall of Moms (WOM) Twitter accounts have been created in 22 US locations. These include cities like Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington D.C., as well as statewide chapters including Michigan, Maine, and Rhode Island.
The original Portland chapter also released a PDF toolkit for newcomers, declaring on their Twitter account, “We want chapters in EVERY CITY!”
“A lot of us haven’t put our bodies in harm’s way like this,” a statement on the WOM website read. “It’s really scary and awful. But it’s what’s happening to Black and Brown bodies for years.”
The movement has also gained the support of journalist Dan Rather. “I predict the Wall of Moms in Portland may become a far more enduring representation of the future of America than the ‘wall’ along the Mexican border,” he wrote in a tweet on Wednesday, July 22, that currently has over 125,000 likes.