Attorney General William Barr (R) doubted the federal courthouse in Portland would be standing, had the administration not deployed federal officers to defend the building amid the ongoing violent riots rocking the city on a nightly basis.
Barr testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and expressed doubt that the federal courthouse in Portland would be standing today if the Trump administration did not take action and send federal agents into the city.
“Do you deploy federal law enforcement to protect federal property?” House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-OH) asked.
“Yes,” Barr said.
“Would the federal building in Portland be standing today if you had not deployed federal law enforcement,” he pressed.
“I don’t think so,” the attorney general replied, detailing the protesters’ persistent attempts to destroy the building in recent days:
Rep. Jordan: "Would the federal building in Portland still be standing today if you had not deployed federal law enforcement?"
— John Cooper (@thejcoop) July 28, 2020
“There have been multiple attempts to set it afire. And I have to say, I don’t understand why a small contingent of Marshals inside the court poses a threat to anybody’s First Amendment rights,” Barr said.
“They set up a fence on federal property, I am told, around the court and when people are arrested, it’s because they’re trying to come into the fence. These are not peaceful protesters,” he said, explaining that the demonstrators often bring power tools to cut through the wire to enter the restricted area.
Barr explained the situation further, describing “100, 120 federal people behind the fence trying to protect the building and all these people are trying to cut their way in.”
The attorney general also noted, earlier in the hearing, that rioters in Portland come “equipped for fighting,” armed with “powerful slingshots, tasers, sledge hammers, saws, knives, rifles, and explosives devices.”
Their use of explosive devices was put on full display early Tuesday morning, as a protester tossed a Molotov cocktail “or similar destructive device” at the courthouse, which then “burst into a fireball when it struck the building, causing a report to be heard and felt more than a block away,” according to the Portland Police Bureau:
Antifa just threw what appears to be an IED at the federal courthouse. pic.twitter.com/fX1UMvsFUw
— Brittany (@Brittany3l) July 28, 2020
— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) July 28, 2020
On Monday, Portland Police affirmed the discovery of a bag filled with loaded rifle magazines and Molotov cocktails, posting a photo of the findings on social media:
Tonight Portland Police were near Lownsdale Square Park. A person pointed out a bag to them. Inside the bag Police found loaded rifle magazines and Molotov cocktails pic.twitter.com/ytpu9pZjqG
— Portland Police (@PortlandPolice) July 27, 2020
Similarly, there were also reports of protesters hurling what appeared to be Molotov cocktails toward officers defending the federal building early Monday morning:
Antifa rioters are throwing Molotov cocktails toward federal officers at the courthouse. Earlier in the day, police found a cache of ready-made incendiary devices and fully loaded magazines. Video by @livesmattershow. #PortlandRiots pic.twitter.com/KFPyahZ8Er
— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) July 27, 2020
Authorities have arrested 72 demonstrators in Portland and charged 60 with crimes, Department of Justice (DOJ) spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said on Monday:
Current # of federal arrests and charged cases related to violent opportunists & civil unrest ⬇️
⏹ 74 arrests
⏹ 60 defendants charged
Total Nationally —
⏹ 236 arrests
⏹ 238 defendants charged
— Kerri Kupec DOJ (@KerriKupecDOJ) July 27, 2020
“What makes me concerned for the country is [that] this is the first time in my memory that the leaders of one of our great two political parties, the Democratic Party, are not coming out and condemning mob violence and the attack on federal courts,” Barr said during Tuesday’s hearing.
“Why can’t we just say: ‘Violence against federal courts has to stop?’ Could we hear something like that?” he asked.