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Federal officers vs. protesters: Two different stories of the Portland protests

The Department of Homeland Security says federal officers offer protection at Portland protests, but protesters say those officers are making things much worse.

PORTLAND, Ore. — What’s happening in downtown Portland is being told two different ways, and at some point, it comes down to who you believe: the federal government or the protesters and their allies.

Monday night's protest at the federal courthouse in downtown Portland began peacefully, but ended--again--with an unlawful assembly.

Hundreds of people showed up early, including a group of moms and a group of dads.

But according to Portland police, things went downhill around 12:30 a.m. when demonstrators started trying to break in to the federal courthouse, which eventually brought federal agents out from the inside.

One dramatic moment was caught on video as a federal officer tried to take someone into custody and a group of five or six people from the crowd threw the officer back.

As another officer came to help, you can see in an Associated Press photo the right hand is on the officer's gun. 

Photos circulating on social media show a DHS officer carrying what appeared to be a firearm, outside of his holster. A previous version of this story implied all officers kept their weapons holstered. 

As the night went on, video showed there were several moments where federal officers came out to move demonstrators away from the building and were met with lasers pointed at their faces and strobe lights.

Chad Wolf, the leader of the Department of Homeland Security, criticized city leaders for not doing more to stop the destruction and violence.

“We see them planning their attacks," Wolf said. "And yet the city of Portland takes little action to stop or disperse this crowd. These individuals carry lasers, baseball bats, explosive fireworks metal pipes, glass bottles, accelerants and other weapons all targeting federal facilities and federal law enforcement. And yet the city of Portland takes little to no action.” 

The federal officers answered the crowd Monday night as they have before, with tear gas and non-lethal projectiles fired at the crowd.

On Sunday night, Bryan Wolf said he got hit twice. He posted the pictures on Twitter and talked about the experience Tuesday. Wolf is a doctor and works as a professor at OHSU, and he has spent many nights on the front lines of the protest. He believes it's the federal agents who are out of control.

“I have seen civil disobedience and mild acts of civil unrest," Dr. Wolf said. "But the escalations that we have seen on a nightly basis and the unprovoked attacks from Portland Police Bureau and new federal agents who are not identified on the streets are far in excess of these small civil disobedient acts.”

Oregon State Representative Janelle Bynum agrees with the assessment that federal officers are escalating the tensions, rather then quelling them. 

"Some people just don't believe that fat is greasy. That is such a crock. They know exactly what they're doing," Rep. Bynum told KGW. "Everyone knows what their intent is: Their intent is to stir distrust, to stir up fear, to have a strong man showing, how much muscle they can employ in a particular city. This is nothing more than gaslighting and an attempt to intimidate."

The federal officers, while protecting the federal courthouse, are not staying there. Video shows them marching down the street a couple blocks from the courthouse, near Southwest 3rd Avenue and Taylor Street.

And they don't deny leaving federal property to make an arrest. Instead they said they had every right to do it, because they witnessed someone committing a crime on the federal property and that was probable cause to make an arrest.

The head of Homeland Security said the government supports peaceful protests but stressed that what is happening late at night in Portland is not peaceful.

"These individuals are organized, and they have one mission in mind: to burn down or cause extreme damage to the federal courthouse and law enforcement officers,” said Chad Wolf.

But many others in Portland will agree with Bryan Wolf, who feels it’s his civic duty to stand against aggressive government agents in the hope of bringing social change. And he believes getting hit with non-lethal munitions is worth it.

“I would like to say that its unexpected and that it surprises me," Dr. Wolf said. "But as I am preparing to go down tonight to stand in the front to again try to de-escalate, which I know will fail, I won’t be surprised when I am shot."

Portland police said in a press release Tuesday morning that they did not use tear gas or make any arrests during Monday night's protests, but the federal agents did.

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