A group of military veterans joined Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland as part of an effort to protect them from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) forces on Friday night.
Masked and goggled. Some wearing black hoodies emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter.” Some with attire designating their service branch. Many with their hands held tight behind their backs. Others with signs expressing opposition to recent attacks on demonstrators.
“I am an American patriot,” one such placard read. “Federal troops defend property, but this does give them the right to take away my constitutional freedom.”
The self-described “Wall of Vets” adds a new element to the weeks-long confrontation between racial justice advocates on one side and federal and local law enforcement on the other. Previously, walls of mothers–some pregnant–and fathers have arrived to offer a similar protective barrier and have been tear-gassed in response.
One video shows the wall of veterans holding the American flag upside down–an expression of national alarm.
The ‘Wall of Vets PDX’ standing at the position of parade rest in front of the federal courthouse. They are a veteran activist group supporting BLM. Seen here holding the US flag upside down. #PortlandProtest pic.twitter.com/U1trDwpQPO
— Joshua Rodriguez (@Joshuajered) July 25, 2020
The veterans say they were inspired to join the protests after U.S. Navy veteran Chris David was repeatedly beaten with a baton by one DHS agent before being directly pepper-sprayed in the face by another.
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Duston Obermeyer attended that protest last Saturday with David and was part of Friday’s wall.
“We were attacked,” Obermeyer told the New York Times. “We decided that, based on the requirements of the Constitution–the Constitution and the oath we all took–we needed to be out here to ensure, and we contacted other veterans to be out here to ensure, our citizens did not have their right to free speech and their right to protest taken away from them by federal security forces.”
In videos of their intervention, the veterans can be seen standing just in front of the federal courthouse in Portland–a focal point of protests since the Minneapolis Police Department killing of George Floyd in late May. The building has been repeatedly tagged with graffiti expressing support for racial justice, opposition to policing, as well as more revolutionary solutions to the nation’s longstanding contradictions and inequities. The presence of such graffiti was recently cited by DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf to justify his officers’ presence in the liberal Pacific Northwest enclave.
Since at least July 12, however, camouflaged DHS troops have reportedly been rounding up protesters in Oregon’s largest city. Those troops were later determined to be Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents acting under DHS authority
The legality of those detentions have been questioned by various ideological groups–including liberals, libertarians, socialists and the far-left. Legal experts believe the detentions are a violation of the Fourth and 14th Amendments. Local, state and federal officials have raised alarm bells about various DHS activity in the area as well.
Against this backdrop the veterans came to Portland, they said, to maintain and support the constitutional rights of the demonstrators.
“It’s something I believe in,” U.S. Coast Guard veteran Jonathan Fisher told local ABC affiliate KATU. “The other vets here–this is the first time they’ve come down; they don’t like crowds either; we believe in something; it’s time to stand.”
[image via screengrab/Mike Baker]
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