US agents to pull back in Portland but will stay on standby

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Federal officers are surrounded by smoke as they push back demonstrators during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Some federal officers guarding a U.S. courthouse that's been targeted during violent protests in Portland will leave in the next 24 hours, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday. But the Trump administration's insistence that some agents would remain in the building and the entire contingent would stay in the city in case they're needed sparked confusion and concern among demonstrators.

While each side declared victory in the political fight over the federal deployment, it was not clear if the agreement would reduce tensions on the streets of the liberal city, where nightly protests have persisted for more than two months.

Many demonstrators are peaceful, but smaller numbers have thrown fireworks, flares and rocks at federal agents, used lasers to blind them and sprayed graffiti across the downtown Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse. Agents have responded with tear gas, pepper balls, stun grenades and nearly 100 arrests.

The deal also seemed likely to further muddle the situation by adding yet another law enforcement agency to the mix — Oregon State Police.

President Donald Trump earlier this month sent agents to the city from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshals Service as protests against racial injustice increasingly targeted federal property. The deployment appeared to have the opposite effect, reinvigorating demonstrations with a new focus: getting rid of the federal presence.

The Democratic governor said CBP and ICE agents will begin leaving the downtown area Thursday, but Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf wouldn't specify where the agents would go. He insisted that a federal presence would remain until the Trump administration was assured the agreement was working and state police were sufficiently protecting federal property.

The plan calls for agents with the U.S. Marshals Service and Federal Protective Service to stay inside a fence set up around the courthouse, along with some state police, to keep out protesters. State police will be outside the fence.

“I want to be clear about this, the entire DHS law enforcement presence in Portland will remain in Portland, whether they’re staying inside the courthouse, next door or a different location, obviously I’m not going to get into that," Wolf said on a call with reporters. "If ... we have indicators and warnings that (the state police) deployment is not working, that entire DHS law enforcement presence is available.”