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July 11, 2020, 12:23 a.m. EDT

Trump has assigned Homeland Security a new task: defending statues and monuments

DHS, created after the 2001 terror attacks and primarily on guard against threats from abroad, has during the Trump presidency focused on carrying out the president’s immigration agenda

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By Associated Press

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Improving coordination among law enforcement agencies is part of DHS’s mission. It also oversees the Federal Protective Service, which guards federal government buildings around the nation.

But the FPS doesn’t have the resources to respond to the sustained attacks that have taken place in Portland and elsewhere on the margins of protests over the May 25 killing of Floyd in Minneapolis.

FPS Officer David Underwood was shot and killed outside a federal building in Oakland during a May protest. Authorities charged an Air Force staff sergeant affiliated with the far-right, anti-government “boogaloo” movement with his murder.

As local governments in Washington, D.C., and Portland have stepped back to allow space for peaceful demonstrations, the Trump administration has stepped up its effort against what the senior official called “opportunistic criminals.”

Attorney General William Barr says there have been more than 150 arrests on federal charges, including destruction of property and assault, around the country, with about 500 investigations pending related to recent protests. There were about a dozen in Portland in recent days.

Portland police officials say the cycle of nightly attacks, which have shut down much of the downtown, has been unprecedented. Early Thursday, a man in a SUV fired several times into the air as he drove away from protesters who had surrounded his car. “We’ve never seen this intensity of violence and focused criminal activity over this long period of time,” Davis said.

Among the federal forces deployed in Portland are members of an elite Border Patrol tactical team, a special operations unit that is based on the U.S.-Mexico border and has been deployed overseas, including to Iraq and Afghanistan.

BORTAC members, identifiable by patches on their camouflage sleeves, are mixed in with Federal Protective Service officers outside the courthouse. Others in the unit, which includes snipers, have been stationed in “overlook” positions on the courthouse’s ninth floor, where a protester in a black hoodie shined a green laser into the eyes of one of the officers on Monday, according to court documents.

The night before, a BORTAC agent tackled and arrested a demonstrator suspected of pointing a laser at him and others from a park across the street from the courthouse.

A former DHS official said BORTAC agents were viewed as “highly trained, valuable, scarce resources” and would typically be used for domestic law enforcement in extraordinary circumstances. “These units don’t normally sit around idle,” said the official, who spoke on condition anonymity because he no longer works at the agency, after serving under Trump and President Barack Obama, and is not authorized to discuss operations.

“What did they get pulled off of in order to watch over statues?”

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