Agents began to monitor protests groups in the summer of 2020 during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations
Surveillance was stepped up after rioters attacked the Matthew O. Hatfield courthouse in Portland
A federal law enforcement agent was attacked with a hammer during that uprising
Agents continued to observe the protest movement during a raucous demonstration of President Biden’s inaugeration
The FBI covertly surveilled protesters during the 2020 Black Lives matter demonstrations in Portland – but continued with their surveillance months after the unrest in the city died down.
Agents mingled with antifascists, communists, racial justice advocates and anarchists who gathered for the protests – with police declaring the gatherings a riot on most nights – last summer, according to The New York Times.
When the protesting turned violent, culminating with an attack on the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse, the bureau stepped up its surveillance, keeping an eye on illegal activity and reporting back to local law enforcement.
On that night, federal law enforcement was called in to protect the building, but it was still heavily vandalized.
An agent was assaulted with a hammer during the attack and a protester is now serving a three year sentence in prison for the assault.
The head of the FBI’s Portland field office, Kieran Ramsey, acknowledge to the Times that the bureau kept tabs on criminals in the group.
‘FBI in Oregon ran a command post to gather intelligence and coordinate with our law enforcement partners on potential threats,” he told the Daily Mail. ‘We also had special agents, bomb technicians, the FBI Evidence Response Team, tactical teams, intelligence teams, and others to support investigations and combat any potential threat of violence.’
In one incident, an agent helped prosecute a man accused of hurling Molotov cocktails.
The surveillance of the protest movement continued through 2020 and into early 2021, when agents, some dressed all in black to blend in, witnessed several crimes of vandalism being committed in a left-wing protest of Biden’s Inauguration Day, according to the New York Times.
A former FBI agent has labeled the vandalism crimes ‘minor’ and said that the agency should have focused on more serious crimes.
‘The FBI should focus its resources on groups engaged in deadly violence, not vandals,’ former FBI agent Mark German, told the Times.
Along with surveilling protesters during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations last year, the FBI has also used secret tactics to infiltrate right-wing violence, including the foiled plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
In the past, the bureau has run into trouble infiltrating and disrupting political movements, like the Black Panther Party and the Student Nonviolent Movement in the 1960s and 70s under a program called COINTELPRO, short for counter intelligence program.
The FBI also surveilled the American Communist movement and the Civil Rights Movement, including Dr. Martin Luther King.
Surveillance of political movements raises First Amendment issues and could be perceived as government intimidation of free speech, according to some in the protest movement.
‘The Department of Justice needs to explain to me why it deployed those teams and provide a real record of their activities,’ Oregon Congressman Ron Wynden told the Times.
‘What were they there for? Were they there primarily to chill peaceful protesters, or were they there to protect federal property?’
But Ramsey said the bureau was careful to focus on investigating criminal activity, not curtailing civil rights.
‘The FBI respects the rights of individuals to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights,’ he told the Daily Mail. ‘Our mission of protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution is dual and simultaneous, not contradictory.’