Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli told the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution on Tuesday violent that rioters in Portland were disguising themselves as members of the press.
Last month, U.S. Judge Michael H. Simon — a Barack Obama appointee — issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) barring federal law enforcement using force against, dispersing, or threatening journalists during riots in Portland.
Since then, there have been reports of rioters who have dressed in black and marked themselves as “press” to avoid being targeted by police — and, reportedly, to carry out violent attacks against federal law enforcement officers with impunity.
PPB has seen a number of people purporting to be “media” or “press” who are not in recent weeks. This is concerning and takes away from legitimate media efforts. https://t.co/mAfxHwyASj
— Portland Police (@PortlandPolice) July 26, 2020
The Portland Police Department reported last weekend — after the withdrawal of federal law enforcement personnel — that rioters “with ‘press’ written on their outer garments repeatedly threw objects at officers.”
Cuccinelli noted the TRO had been extended to all federal law enforcement agencies.
“But upon the implementation of that order … suddenly, people started sprouting, wearing, all black bloc, and ‘press’,” he told the Senate.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) asked the federal court last week to rescind the TRO, noting that rioters had been exploiting the TRO to carry out violence while disguised as journalists — or, in some cases, apparently while working as journalists.
“[F]ederal officers have identified (1) individuals pretending to be press or legal observers, and, relatedly, (2) individuals presenting indicia of press affiliation under the TRO who have engaged in unlawful actions,” the DOJ filing stated.
It presented several examples (citations omitted):
For example, a protester carrying a shield that identified him as press was taken into custody for impeding federal officers who were attempting to control the crowd, and was found to be in possession of a gun. Another individual who self-identified as a reporter unlawfully entered federal property and, after refusing to leave, resisted arrest. A third individual wearing indicia of press membership and self-reporting as press, was arrested for failing to comply with lawful direction of a federal officer, and discovered to be carrying commercial grade fireworks, which, throughout the protests, have been used as a tactic to harass federal officers, and which are illegal in Oregon. On July 28, 2020, an officer observed an individual wearing a helmet bearing the word “PRESS” and using a power tool to attempt to breach the fence around the Courthouse. In the early morning on July 29, 2020, an individual wearing “press” identification on his helmet breached the security barrier around the courthouse by jumping over the perimeter fence. Most recently, on the night of July 29, 2020, an individual wearing “press” identification assisted another protester to breach the perimeter fence.
Attempting to comply with the TRO more generally has also impeded federal officers in their duties and endangered the safety of both officers and purported members of the press. Individuals identifying as members of the press have repeatedly placed themselves between federal officers and protesters posing an imminent threat. Such individuals are also often in the middle of crowds of violent protesters, not physically separated, impeding dispersal and endangering officers who must attempt to determine if individuals refusing lawful orders are covered by the TRO. Indeed, officers have been assaulted by some of these individuals while attempting to determine if they are in fact journalists, impeding the officers’ ability to accomplish their duties and putting them in danger. Finally, under the chaotic circumstances of the protests, it is difficult for officers, who are often wearing gas masks and laser protective goggles, to verify small indicia of press membership that may be present on certain members of crowds. It is particularly difficult for officers to make these determinations while remaining a safe distance away from crowds to employ crowd control devices in a manner that is safe for both the crowd and the officers.
Cuccinelli noted that these tactics had spread beyond Portland, and had been filmed in Seattle.
There, he said, people disguising themselves as members of the media had been standing between police and rioters. “They’re actively performing a shield function.”
Democrats on the Senate subcommittee complained that federal officers were suppressing the right to free speech and assembly.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.