Agents from the United States Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) stayed inside the federal courthouse complex in Portland on the night of July 30 as police officers dispersed protesters from the surroundings without incident. Chad Wolf, the acting Secretary of Homeland Security, explained that the agents would not leave the city until Governor Kate Brown could prove that city and state police officers are able to control unruly demonstrators. However, there were no plans to deploy the agents to the streets.
A few days before, President Donald Trump quietly issued an order for the BORTAC agents to stand down and begin withdrawing. Trump did so under considerable political pressure from Members of Congress, from his reelection campaign staffers, and from most Americans. The deployment of BORTAC agents to Portland was a disaster; for two months, images and videos of complete mayhem were broadcast around the world. Oregon officials and the people of Portland viewed the agents as being part of an occupying force sent by Trump to quash the Black Lives Matter activism movement set off by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in late May.
The actions of BORTAC agents in Portland were not only reprehensible but also unconstitutional. Dozens of protesters were injured by tear gas canisters, baton strikes, capsicum rounds, and rubber bullets. The agents did not act in a law enforcement capacity; they applied urban warfare tactics that included snatching protesters and throwing them into unmarked vans without following proper arrest or detention procedures.
BORTAC agents were filmed striking and spraying war veterans with pepper spray. They fired volleys of tear gas and flash bang grenades against groups of mothers and street medics who supported protesters. Each time the agents came out in tactical formation to face off against protesters armed with leaf blowers, umbrellas, homemade shields, and surgical masks, things got ugly. There was a consensus that this federal occupying force, which operated at the behest of Trump and the DHS, was enraging the public and inciting violence.
Less than 24 hours since the BORTAC agents stood down, the protests around the federal building in Portland were no longer riotous. This was a dark moment in the history of BORTAC, but Americans only need to cycle their memories to the year 2000, when BORTAC agents raided a home in Miami to snatch Elian Gonzalez, a 6-year-old Cuban refugee who had been rescued at sea. In a shameful photo that circulated around the world, BORTAC agents pointed their compact assault weapons at a terrified Gonzalez, who was clutching a teddy bear while clinging to the arms of the American fisherman who rescued him.
BORTAC agents are trained to deal with dangerous drug cartels and human traffickers, but they have rarely carried out missions in this regard. Earlier this year, BORTAC agents were deployed to so-called sanctuary cities where municipal police departments do not cooperate with immigration agents; Trump ordered this deployment as a pressure tactic, and it has been heavily criticized by former immigration and customs officials. To the great detriment of BORTAC agents, their history has been marred by deployments against the American people.