PORTLAND — Linneas stood on a bare earth mound close by the federal courthouse and — despite pleas from those around him — refused to budge.
They wanted to build a bonfire here. He did not. And, as a Portland Black man, demanded that his voice be heard — and respected.
“You are done. You are not supporting our movement. Go home,” he declared.
“Don’t tell me how to protest,” declared a white man who wore over his bare chest a vest initialed ACAB — for All Cops are Bastards — on the front and “Class War” on the back.
Others also argued for the fire, including a young Black man who shouted that this was an attempt to police the protest, and so Linneas must be part of the police.
Still, Linneas, who declined to give his last name, held his ground, at least until the first volleys of tear gas from federal law enforcement chased him a few blocks west on a Wednesday night when Portland’s more than 60-day-old protest movement appeared to be in transition.
An agreement announced earlier that day between the acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown will draw Oregon State Police troopers into the task of protecting the courthouse as soon as Thursday, while tactical teams of federal law enforcement agents sent to Portland step back and eventually withdraw.
Just how that will play out — and the timetable for the transition — appears unclear. But changes are underway, with Mayor Ted Wheeler tweeting Thursday about an early-morning sweep by Portland police of Lownsdale Square, a park area that had become a 24-hour gathering spot — and tent camping area — for protesters.
By 6 p.m. Thursday, yellow tape stating “do not cross” was strung around the perimeter and a few Portland police officers were there. In front of the federal courthouse, a reinforced fence remained in place.
Just north of the park, a few veterans of the protest called out chants cursing Wheeler. They expected more people to come in the hours ahead. “This isn’t over,” said Patrick Stupfel, who had been participating in the protests for weeks and spent time camping in the park.
By 10 p.m, the yellow tape was down, and hundreds of people had made their way to the park to resume protesting. They had not tried to remove or climb over the federal courthouse fence, which had no law enforcement officers standing guard around it.
Law enforcement response in transition
On Wednesday evening, the federal law enforcement teams remained firmly in control of the response to the protest as they have in most recent nights as Portland police — under City Council orders not to collaborate — largely ceded this law enforcement task. This has been a hugely controversial exercise of federal power made even more controversial by President Donald Trump’s statements attempting to portray the city as at risk of being burned down while his presidential campaign runs ads that seek to portray him as a defender of law and order in the face of a militant left-wing insurgency.
Federal law enforcement officials some nights have burst out of the federal building without announcement. Before midnight Wednesday, a federal agent declared an unlawful assembly due to rocks thrown at the courthouse and the shining of laser lights. He said that peaceful protesters should leave, then tactical teams — some bearing Customs and Border Protection patches — marched into the streets. They eventually unleashed more plumes of tear gas. Through much of the month, they also have fired less-lethal munitions that have resulted in some serious head and other injuries to protesters.
Protesters some past nights have formed into tight groups, and then sought to march back down to the courthouse. The response Wednesday appeared more scattered, and it didn’t take much to get arrested.
Nathan Morton, 21, came to the protest after midnight with another friend, also 21. He said his friend was on the street in front of the courthouse, trying to pick up a tear-gas canister and douse it in a container filled with water when he was detained and taken into custody by federal agents.
A video clip of the incident, posted on Twitter, shows the agents taking him down and holding him in a thick cloud of tear gas, then standing him up — his gas mask once firmly in place now dangling around his neck — and taking him away.
“He did not hurt anyone,” Morton said.
Bare mound where the elk statue once stood
The protests have unfolded in the heart of downtown Portland where a fountain — surrounding a bronze elk statute— has graced an adjacent street since it was donated to the city in 1900. Earlier during the protests, when they were focused at the Multnomah County Justice Center building next door to the courthouse, the fountain was the scene of several bonfires that seriously damaged the fountain basins and statue foundation. The damage to the city landmark angered many Portland residents. The elk statute was removed for safe keeping, the foundation leveled to a mound. During the past week, it has been the scene of a bonfire where people dance to music.
But in recent nights, some Black protesters have sought to quash the fire. Two nights ago, they even stepped on it to put it out in an incident in which Linneas said one drunken man hurled a racial slur at him and other Black protesters “were disrespected by allies.”
“When you do the fire (expletive) it causes more problems for us,” Linneas said.
On Wednesday, Linneas decided to prevent the bonfire from ever being lit. So, he climbed atop the mound
He said that fires send the wrong message and don’t help the Black Lives Matter movement. He also asked for people to end acts of courthouse vandalism that have been embraced by some in the anarchist movement. Another Black man carrying a leaf blower to blow back tear gas strode onto the mound to support him.
People with different points of view also walked onto the mound to argue their case.
One man declared that Black Lives Matter would be helped by ending capitalism, and that fires “are OK” as part of that struggle.
The bare-chested man with the vest — who gave his name as Jessie — was among the most outspoken in support of a fire.
“I respect his position,” Jessie said. He said he would back off until Linneas was gone.
By early Thursday morning, after lots of gas had wafted through streets, a small fire stoked by plywood had been lit on the mound.
By then, the crowds had scattered, and no one was gathered around the flames.