BOISE, Idaho – When armed protesters took over a remote wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon four years ago to oppose federal control of public lands, U.S. agents negotiated with the conservative occupiers for weeks while some state leaders begged for stronger action.
This month, federal officers sent to Portland to quell chaotic protests against racial injustice took swift and, some say, harsh action: launching tear gas, firing less-lethal ammunition and helping arrest more than 40 people in the first two weeks. State leaders are imploring federal forces to leave the progressive city, saying they're escalating a volatile situation.
The reaction from state leaders, protesters and anti-government groups to the U.S. response to two disparate situations shows the inconsistencies in how both sides view federal intervention, often based on the politics of who's protesting and who's cracking down.
J.J. MacNab, a fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, said many right-wing extremists who espouse anti-government and pro-gun views have embraced the authoritarian tactics used by President Donald Trump that they denounced under his Democratic predecessor.
“It’s like night and day,” she said. “They hated government when Obama was in office. They love government now.”
MacNab, who's been monitoring social media chatter by supporters of anti-government groups like the Oath Keepers and the militia-style Three Percenters, said she's seen a steady stream of violent rhetoric directed toward Portland protesters.
MacNab said the Oath Keepers in 2015 promoted a conspiracy theory that a U.S. military training exercise was a pretext for the federal government to impose martial law.
“They are literally 180 degrees from where they were in 2015,” she said.