(Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has deployed more than 100 federal agents to Portland, Oregon, on a mission named "Operation Diligent Valor" to patrol government buildings as anti-racism protests flared this month, court documents show.
The documents, filed on Tuesday, helped shed light on what had been a secretive operation that involved days of violent clashes between unidentified federal law enforcement officers and anti-racist protesters outside a federal courthouse.
The operation has involved the Department of Homeland Security's Rapid Deployment Force. It stepped up its response to "increasingly violent attacks" in the Oregon city on July 4, the day after a group of people broke into the courthouse, according to the affidavit by the Federal Protective Services (FPS) regional director, Gabriel Russell.
The affidavit was filed by the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Marshals Service as part of a broader lawsuit brought by journalists against the city of Portland and those agencies. The plantiffs claim that police had attempted to "intimidate the press" by attacking journalists.
"On the morning of July 4th, the DHS Rapid Deployment Force implemented tactics intended to positively identify and arrest serious offenders for crimes such as assault, while protecting the rights of individuals engaged in protected free speech activity," Russell wrote of the operation.
According to the documents, there are currently 114 federal law enforcement officers in Portland to patrol federal buildings, including personnel from the FPS, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The crackdown in the city has drawn widespread criticism and legal challenges as videos surfaced of officers without clear identification badges using force and unmarked vehicles to arrest protesters without explanation.
Some protesters last week reported that it appeared agents were looking for people who were spraying graffiti on buildings.
There have been 43 federal arrests in Portland since July 4, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told CNN on Tuesday.
Portland’s mayor called the intervention an abuse of federal power and said it was escalating the violence. Oregon’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against the federal agencies on Friday, saying they had seized and detained people without probable cause.
A top U.S. Homeland Security official on Monday defended the federal crackdown on protests in Portland, including the use of unmarked cars and unidentified officers in camouflage gear and said the practice will spread to other cities as needed.
"We will maintain our presence," Ken Cuccinelli, the acting Department of Homeland Security deputy secretary told CNN on Monday. "When that violence recedes and those threats recede, that is when we would ratchet back down to what I would call normal presence defending and protecting federal facilities."
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Aurora Ellis)