James Carafano: In Portland, Seattle, Homeland Security is facing organized, criminal activity
James Carafano: In Portland, Seattle, Homeland Security is facing organized, criminal activity

By James Jay Carafano | Fox News

Let’s be clear. We are not talking about “peaceful protests.

Critics assailing the Department of Homeland Security for “over-stepping their bounds” in Portland have it 100 percent wrong. The department is in the right.

Further, its actions thus far should just be the first step in disrupting the organized violence aimed at intimidating public officials, injuring law enforcement officers, destroying public and private property and making our streets less safe.

Let’s be clear. We are not talking about “peaceful protests.” What is going on in Portland, as well as Seattle and some other is an array of criminal activity: rioting, looting, arson, assaulting law enforcement officers and more. This is flat out criminal activity.


And it is not all spontaneous. This is organized criminal activity.

For starters, the rioters are targeting cities where public officials have created a more permissive environment. They have restricted the actions of local and state law enforcement. When rioters are arrested, they release them quickly, refusing to prosecute.

Moreover, these officials refuse to cooperate with federal law enforcement. In sum, they have turned their cities into “soft targets” for criminals.

Further, it is clear that many of the crimes committed are premeditated. Rioters show up armed with commercial fireworks, chain saws, crowbars, frozen water bottles, laser pointers (that have already injured the eyesight of several law enforcement personnel), leaf blowers (to disperse tear gas) and metal spikes (to incapacitate the tires of law enforcement vehicles).

People planning to conduct a peaceful protest would have no use for any of these items. Even those who fear they might be set upon by police don’t need them. They have no defensive value. These are nothing more — or less — than weapons intended to be used to attack property and injure law enforcement personnel.

In addition, the rioters appear to be changing and adapting tactics as time goes on. For instance, initially they targeted federal monuments and statues. After the Department of Justice deployed a national task force to arrest and prosecute criminals trying to deface or tear down statues, that activity subsided.

The rioters then shifted to trying to destroy federal property such as the federal courthouse in Portland. After the Department of Homeland Security deployed to protect the courthouse, groups soon appeared to protect the rioters.

These included “moms” in yellow shirts (several identified by a reporter at the scene as the same rioters they had seen days before); flag-waving “patriots” and then “vets.” That such groups would spontaneously materialize in succession and show-up in the middle of post-midnight riots seems unlikely.

Criminals — whatever their motivations — have hijacked legitimate demonstrations, transforming them into lawless, violent mobs that deny citizens equal protection under the law, make our streets less safe, and threaten the safety of law enforcement.

Enter the Department of Homeland Security. Several agencies within the department have law enforcement authority — authority that they possessed long before there ever was a DHS. The U.S. Coast Guard, for example, has always been both a uniformed military service and a law enforcement agency. It, along with the others, was folded into DHS when the new department was established in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. 

Bringing various agencies under the department was intended to increase their effectiveness, allowing them to work better together, much like law enforcement agencies under the Department of Justice work together.

In fact, the U.S. government has long used a task force approach, combining agencies not just at the federal level, but pulling in cooperative state and local officials to help combat major criminal threats. That kind of partnership was key in combatting the mafia and other organized crime syndicates, as well as White supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

The ongoing attacks in places like Portland are not just people “letting off steam” or advocating for change. They are acts of violence, conducted illegally to get what they want. That’s a crime. It needs to be stopped.

The federal government should vigorously investigate, prosecute and disrupt any organizations or individuals they find aiding, abetting or directing these attacks. Homeland Security absolutely has the authorities, resources and responsibility to aid in that mission.

Local, state and federal law enforcement need to pool their resources to protect our cities and investigate and prosecute organized criminal activity.

State and local officials who have an obligation to provide public safety must facilitate not thwart cooperation. This is an obligation of responsible democratic governance. 

James Jay Carafano is vice president of foreign and defense policy studies  The Heritage Foundation.

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