As recently as yesterday, William Barr insisted in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee that a federal presence was necessary to protect against “violent rioters and anarchists“ who “had hijacked legitimate protests” in Portland, a “mob” that would surely burn the Hatfield Federal Courthouse to the ground in short order were they to leave.
Fearing that that tear gas might cloud his own presidential candidacy as a result of depictions of Portland’s unrest put forward by Barr and other members of the Trump administration, Biden quickly echoed Barr’s central assertion and called for the arrest and trial of anarchists.
But today the announcement came from Governor Brown’s office that Federal agents would begin withdrawing from the city as early as Thursday. “These federal officers have acted as an occupying force, refused accountability, and brought violence and strife to our community,” she said.
The thousands of protestors who showed up nightly over the last few weeks in Portland to confront Federal agents can claim this as a victory. It has been a multiracial movement for racial justice and against authoritarian rule, bringing together all sorts of people to fight for racial justice and against authoritarian rule. In the face of pepper balls, impact munitions, tear gas, batons, and arrest they continued to come. They did not distinguish between “legitimate protest” and “anarchism.” They refused the claim that militant resistance to Federal agents will only cause a backlash and play into Trump’s hands. And accusations that this was merely self-indulgent spectacle were belied by the utter seriousness and focus of the protests in the face of real danger – protests that continued to center the names of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Deontae Keller, Kendra Jones and all Black people killed by police nationally and locally.
The fight for racial justice is far from over in Portland and everywhere else. And we still face fascism in the White House and increasingly in violent far-right groups that have become a significant threat on the streets all over the United States. But this is a major victory to claim and celebrate.