- According to personal accounts and videos posted online, federal law enforcement officers in Portland have been driving around in unmarked vehicles and detaining people on the street without explanation.
- The move comes amid days of escalating tensions between protesters and the federal agents deployed by President Trump to quell demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality.
- State and local officials have continually asked the Trump administration to remove the feds, who they say have made the situation worse and more violent by clashing with the demonstrators and firing tear gas and munitions.
- However, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has said he will not remove his agents, and earlier this week, Trump praised their efforts, falsely claiming that many people had been jailed and that the protests had stopped.
Feds in Unmarked Vehicles
Unidentified federal law enforcement agents in unmarked vehicles have been grabbing protesters off the street in Portland, Oregon since at least July 14, according to local reports.
Multiple videos posted online show the law enforcement officers driving up to people, detaining them without explanation, and then driving off, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OBP) reported Thursday.
Personal accounts given to the media also support the allegations. According to interviews conducted by OPB, the agents have detained people involved in the ongoing demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality.
Some of the individuals detained were not near federal property, and it is unclear if the people being arrested committed any crimes.
Demonstrators Mark Pettibone and Conner O’Shea told reporters that they were walking home in the early hours of Wednesday when a group of people warned them that people in camouflage were driving around in unmarked cars and taking people off the street.
Minutes later, an unmarked minivan pulled up in front of them, and several armed people in camouflage and body armor got out.
“I was terrified,” Pettibone told The Washington Post. “It was like being preyed upon.”
Both men told reporters that they ran when they encountered the mysterious agents. O’Shea, who said he was pursued by a second unmarked van, filmed the dark scene.
“Feds are driving around, grabbing people off the streets,” O’Shea said in the video, given by OPB, which verified that the metadata confirmed the time and place of the protesters’ story. “I didn’t do anything fucking wrong. I’m recording this. I had to let somebody know that this is what happens.”
Pettibone, however, was unable to escape the feds.
“I am basically tossed into the van,” Pettibone said to OPB. “And I had my beanie pulled over my face so I couldn’t see and they held my hands over my head.”
He said the agents, who never identified themselves, drove him to a federal courthouse and placed him in a holding cell. Eventually, two officers went to the cell and read him his Miranda rights. They asked if he would waive his rights and answer some questions, but he declined and asked for a lawyer.
The officers responded by ending the interview and releasing Pettibone, who said that they would not tell him why he had been arrested or provide him with any record of his arrest.
While both he and O’Shea said they regularly attend protests, neither could think of anything they had done that would make them targets of law enforcement.
The two men told OPD they believed the feds went after them simply because they were near a protest and wearing black.
The new allegations come amid escalating tensions brought by the presence of federal officers from the U.S. Marshals Service and Department of Homeland Security, which were deployed to the streets of Portland by President Donald Trump in response to the weeks of ongoing protests in the city.
The agents, who are supposed to protect federal property, have continually clashed violently with protesters. They have frequently deployed tear gas, even though a recent law prohibits the Portland police from using the chemical unless there is a clear safety risk.
On Saturday, Marshals Service officers shot a peaceful protester in the face with so-called “less-than-lethal” munitions. Photos and videos of the incident circulated online showed the man in the street bleeding from his head. According to reports, he was hospitalized with a skull fracture.
State and local leaders have repeatedly called on federal authorities and the Trump administration to remove the agents, whose presence they never requested in the first place. Those calls have grown with the recent escalations.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also police commissioner, has called the federal response “irresponsible” and demanded that the feds stay inside federal buildings or leave the city. Separately, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese has said that the federal response is a “significant setback” in the efforts to ease tensions.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also accused the agents of making the situation worse, saying in a tweet on Thursday that the “shadowy forces have been escalating, not preventing, violence.”
Clashes With the Trump Administration
Others have also accused President Trump of deploying the federal officers for his own political gain.
“This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in a tweet on Thursday. “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.”
Brown also took aim at acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.
“He is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes,” she wrote. “He is putting both Oregonians and local law enforcement officers in harm’s way.”
Those remarks were also echoed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who referred to the feds as “Donald Trump’s secret police” in a tweet Thursday.
“Now Trump and Chad Wolf are weaponizing the DHS as their own occupying army to provoke violence on the streets of my hometown because they think it plays well with right-wing media,” he added.
However, both Trump and Wolf have made it clear that they plan to ignore the officials’ calls.
During an interview with Fox News on Thursday, Wolf said that he was well aware that local and state leaders wanted federal authorities to “pack up and go home,” but added, “that’s just not gonna happen on my watch.”
President Trump, for his part, praised the federal efforts during a press conference Monday.
“We’ve done a great job in Portland,” Trump said. “I guess, we have many people right now in jail, and we very much quelled it. And if it starts again, we’ll quell it again very easily. It’s not hard to do if you know what you’re doing.”
According to reports, only about a dozen people have been arrested, and the protests have continued throughout the week with violent confrontations between protesters and federal law enforcement.
See what others are saying: (Oregon Public Broadcasting) (The Washington Post) (The New York Times)
Former Michigan Gov. and 8 Others Charged Over Flint Water Crisis
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. (Al Goldis/AP)
- Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty Wednesday for his role in the Flint water crisis
- By Thursday, eight more former state and city officials were charged with crimes ranging from involuntary manslaughter to extortion.
- Flint residents have long awaited this news. In 2019, prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against 15 officials and said they would start the investigation from scratch, citing concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.
Rick Snyder Charges
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said Thursday that it had filed 41 charges against nine former state and city officials for their role in the Flint water crisis.
The most high-profile figure to be charged was former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. On Wednesday, he was hit with two counts of willful neglect of duty.
He was the state’s top executive when local officials decided to switch the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River in 2014.
The switch was supposed to be a temporary cost-saving measure while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. However, the water wasn’t treated properly for corrosion, so lead-contaminated water was released into the homes of people all over the city. Because of that, 12 people died and at least 90 were sickened with Legionnaires’ disease.
Snyder appeared in court this morning via Zoom, pleading not guilty to the two misdemeanor charges. If convicted he could face up to a year in prison and as much as a $1,000 fine.
His charges alone are significant because they make him the first governor or former governor in the state to ever be charged with a crime for alleged conduct while in office.
8 Others Charged
Along with Snyder, eight others were charged, including a former state health director Nick Lyon. Lyon received nine charges of involuntary manslaughter, among others.
Richard Baird, one of Snyder’s closes advisors was changed for extortion, perjury, and obstructions of justice. Others who were charged include:
- Jarrod Agen, Snyder’s former chief of staff and Vice President Mike Pence’s former communications director.
- Dr. Eden Wells, a former chief medical executive for the state Department of Health and Human Services.
- Darnell Earley, former Flint finance director and state-appointed emergency manager.
- Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed emergency manager.
- Howard Croft, former Flint Public Works Director.
- Nancy Peeler, the state’s director of maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting for the health department.
Flint residents have waited a long time for justice over the water contamination issue. Prosecutors previously dropped all 15 criminal charges tied to the Flint case in 2019 and said the investigation would begin again from scratch.
At the time, they cited concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.
It also wasn’t until last year that the state reached a $600 million settlement with victims, establishing a fund from which residents can file for compensation.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Detroit News) (Detroit Free Press)
Three Lawmakers Test Positive for COVID-19 Following Capitol Attack
- At least three Congressmembers have tested positive for COVID-19 following Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol.
- Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) believe they contracted the virus after locking down in close quarters with numerous Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks.
- Jayapal and Schneider are calling for those who did not wear a mask to face consequences.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman Tests Positive
At least three members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 after locking down in close quarters with other House members during Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol.
Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan, warned that members may have been exposed during the lockdown. He recommended that everyone who was isolated inside should get tested for the virus.
On Monday Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) became the first to announce that she tested positive. Watson Coleman believes she was exposed while in the Capitol lockdown. In her statement, she cited the multiple Republicans who refused to wear masks while inside. Video footage from Punchbowl News shows a Democratic lawmaker handing out masks and a handful of Republicans declining to take one.
Watson Coleman is a 75-year-old lung cancer survivor. While she said she is only experiencing cold-like symptoms, she tweeted that per a doctor’s suggestion, she headed to a local hospital for antibody treatment. She also encouraged those who sheltered in place to get tested.
More Cases Follow
Later on Monday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she too had tested positive, also blaming a lack of mask-wearing in the Capitol. In a lengthy Twitter thread, she said Republicans created a superspreader event and demanded consequences for their actions.
“Many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic—creating a superspreader event ON TOP of a domestic terrorist attack,” she wrote.
“Any Member who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable,” Jayapal added.
“I’m calling for every single Member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol to be fined and removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms.”
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) echoed her frustrations on Tuesday after releasing a statement saying he has become the third House member to have tested positive following the lockdown.
“Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” he wrote.
Like Jayapal, he is calling for sanctions against those who opted to not wear masks.
Many health officials feared that this lockdown could lead to a surge in cases. They also worry that the mob itself could lead to a superspreader event as most of those who attacked the Capitol were not wearing masks and were crowding together both inside and outside of the building.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (NBC Chicago)
Joe Biden Reportedly Frustrated With His Pick To Handle COVID-19 Vaccine Roll Out
- President-Elect Joe Biden has promised to give 100 million Americans the COVID-19 vaccine in the 100 days following his Inauguration.
- Beyond logistical and administrative concerns that saw the Trump administration only giving out 6.7 million vaccines over a month, a Politico report states Biden lacks confidence in his Covid coordinator, Jeff Zients.
- Reportedly, Zients and his deputy often give Biden a big-picture idea of how they will handle the vaccination efforts. The President-elect, however, wants specific details about how exactly they plan on ramping up vaccination efforts.
- Even if Zients is the man for the job, there are still concerns about Biden keeping General Gustave Perna in his role as chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, despite his failure to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of December as promised.
Steep Hill To Climb
When President-Elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20, a timer starts on his promise to give 100 million Americans the COVID-19 vaccine in 100 days.
The Trump administration made a similar promise in December when it promised 20 million vaccinations by the end of the month. It only managed 2.6 million. As of January 8, only 6.7 million Americans have been vaccinated.
Many of the current issues that are plaguing Trump’s vaccination effort are likely to continue into the Biden administration. For one, sending out millions of vaccines is a logistical nightmare. On top of that, it’s the states, not the federal government, that often control the practical implementation of vaccinations.
Currently, many states are struggling with vaccinations. For example, in Florida, seniors – who are the first in line for a vaccine in the state – have found that the distribution has been chaotic and unorganized.
To tackle the issue, Biden has appointed Jeff Zients, known as President Barack Obama’s “problem fixer,” to be his Covid coordinator. However, a Politico report says Biden is frustrated with how Zients is handling the situation.
With his business background, Zients and his deputy, Natalie Quillian, often give the President-elect a big-picture idea of how they will handle the vaccination efforts. However, the President-elect, as a long-time government official, wants specific details of how exactly they plan on ramping up vaccination efforts ten-fold.
That is all behind-the-scenes reports because officially, Zients has the support of Biden. His transition spokesman reiterated this to reporters, saying, “Jeff Zients is the right person for the job and wakes up every day focused on how to vaccinate every single American as quickly as possible, and the President-elect has full confidence in the plan he and his team are putting forward to get that done.”
Trump Officials Continuing Role Into Biden Administration
Even if Zients is the man for the job, there are still concerns about Trump officials being kept in charge. Biden has decided to keep General Gustave Perna in his role as chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed.
Perna is the official who promised 20 million vaccinations by the end of December 2020 and barely got 2.6 million out.
At the same time, Perna has on-the-job experience. Losing that could put the incoming administration even further behind their plans. Although, failing to get 100-million vaccines in 100-days may not actually be a failure.
In fact, it’s been pointed out that the goal helps states have an idea of Biden’s expectations and will pressure them to more quickly roll-out vaccinations.
Cases are constantly increasing in the U.S., and hospitals are largely unable to handle the number of incoming patients. The country has had 22.5 million cases of COVID-10 and over 374,000 deaths, making it the leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2020.