PORTLAND, Ore. - Sen. Ron Wyden testified Tuesday before a Senate subcommittee about the protests in Portland, the federal response - and efforts to brand all of the participants as "people who hate our country."
The Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution hearing held Tuesday was entitled “The Right of the People Peaceably to Assemble: Protecting Speech by Stopping Anarchist Violence."
"I can tell you that Portlanders did not feel 'protected' by Donald Trump’s secret police. So I agree there’s a serious danger to Americans’ Constitutional rights at this moment in history," Wyden said. "Clearly it’s caused by the president and his enablers, who are calling peaceful protesters anarchists and terrorists and sending paramilitary forces into America’s cities."
The panel also heard from Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Urban League of Portland President and CEO Nkenge Harmon Johnson.
“The United States of America can be a beacon of hope and democracy. First, our country must make good on its long overdue debt to Black Americans," Harmon Johnson said. "It is time for all of us to get into good trouble, necessary trouble, as the Honorable John Lewis called upon us to do until justice can claim its victory and our nation’s Constitution is made real to all in this country."
“Using secret police tactics against peaceful BLM protestors doesn’t make [President Trump] a defender of law and order, it makes him a violent oppressor,” Merkley said. “These tactics were not about arresting anarchists. Trump’s forces did not arrest the violent few. They attacked the peaceful many.”
“I went and saw it for myself this past weekend,” Merkley continued. “I spoke at rally hosted by the local chapter of the NAACP, and walked around talking with folks who had been there day after day. These men and women want our nation to reckon with the systemic racism that remains at the heart of so many of our institutions, and which has shaped life in this country for more than four centuries."
Wyden also shared video of his testimony and text of his prepared remarks:
Time is short so I’ll have just a few points to make this afternoon on protecting free speech.
First, as a Senator from Oregon and a Portlander myself, I want to begin by asking who Americans honestly believe is the real threat to our Constitutional rights.
Is it the Oregonians who’ve gathered together in overwhelmingly peaceful protests for racial justice since the murder of George Floyd?
Or is it the heavily armed secret police snatching Portlanders off the streets into unmarked vans and interrogating them without justification or charges?
Is it the “Wall of Moms,” the courageous women like my friend Sharon Meieran, an ER doc and a county commissioner, who’ve put themselves in harm's way to protect their neighbors?
Or is it the unidentifiable paramilitary forces who, without provocation, batoned and tear-gassed those moms and their fellow protesters?
Is it the peacefully gathered Portlanders who raised their hands in the air and sang the words “hands up, please don’t shoot” to the tune of a lullaby?
Or is it the duplicitous president who called them “professional anarchists professional agitators people who hate our country” and called my hometown a “beehive of terrorists”?
This argument that Americans exercising their right to peaceful protest are anarchists, terrorists and agitators is bad-faith nonsense. Violent conflict in Portland was down before Trump got involved. Portlanders are standing up for justice. I’ve seen Black Lives Matter activists in Portland and in other cities trying their hardest to prevent acts of vandalism, because it distracts from their calls for justice and equality.
So why make these baseless, conspiratorial accusations and send in secret police?
Donald Trump sent his secret police to Portland to create images of chaos for his own political gain – to air in campaign ads and to provide a basis for bad-faith hearings like this one. Fortunately, in the days since federal forces backed off, the chaos has largely stopped in Portland. But the president is still getting the scenes of violence he wanted, and he’s threatening further escalation in Portland and elsewhere.
This nonsense about leftist anarchy also papers over the murders and vandalism committed by far-right domestic terrorists. Those murders have been on the rise. Far-right criminals have also been caught committing acts of vandalism at the scenes of Black Lives Matter protests.
This baseless talk about leftist anarchy also erases the work being done by all those who’ve stood up in peaceful protest to declare that Black Lives Matter. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, millions and millions of Americans – all ages, all ethnicities, all backgrounds – participated in protests and called for an end to inequality and violence against Black Americans. All this talk about leftist anarchy is just a big deflection from that nationwide call for justice.
Bottom line, I can tell you that Portlanders did not feel “protected” by Donald Trump’s secret police. So I agree there’s a serious danger to Americans’ Constitutional rights at this moment in history. Clearly It’s caused by the president and his enablers, who are calling peaceful protesters anarchists and terrorists and sending paramilitary forces into America’s cities.