An Associated Press reporter spent the weekend inside the federal courthouse in Portland, OR. It’s peaceful during the day as protestors stand outside the courthouse.

But every night, rioters descend upon the courthouse in the name of social justice. Federal agents charged with protecting the building now fear for their lives.

Mike Balsamo spent his time inside the courthouse. His colleague Gillian Flaccus stayed outside the fence that protects the courthouse.

The Constitution protects your natural right to peacefully assemble, not riot and destroy property or attack people. Here’s the thing: You attack someone then they will fight back.

These people do not think they are doing anything wrong:

Monica Arce gyrated to the music and waved her cell phone flashlight in the air with hundreds of others. The professional midwife had left her 14-year-old son at home and joined her sister-in-law, a teacher, to protest the presence of the federal agents and to support Black Lives Matter.

“We are not here being violent or being destructive. We have a positive message — there is nothing to quell here,” she said, referencing Trump’s statement that the agents were there to quell unrest. “The people of Portland are saying, ‘We don’t want this presence here and we don’t think we need them at all.’”

At the same time, rioters “circulated in the crowd, stopping every few minutes to point green laser beams in the eyes of agents posted as lookouts on porticoes on the courthouse’s upper stories.”

Then someone set off a firework. Another used “an angle grinder to eat away at the fence.” Rioters threw whatever they could grab: “rocks, cans of beans, water bottles, potatoes and rubber bouncy balls that cause the agents to slip and fall.”

The agents at the fence “fired the first tear gas of the night.”

A young woman insisted the people “are still playing defense” so we should consider their actions “a defensive maneuver.” She also denounced the use of “chemical warfare.”

Agents inside the courthouse sit in the dark as a way to protect themselves. Fireworks set off outside shook the walls. The green lasers caused agents to move around as they tried to sleep:

The Federal Protective Service, U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents were tired and frustrated. They didn’t want to confront the crowd; they just wanted to go home. For weeks, the chaos at the courthouse had flipped their sleep schedules, turned their family lives upside down and left them scared each night that they would be hit by a firework or flare or blinded by a laser. Many were sent from out of town to reinforce the local agents — some are members of an elite Border Patrol tactical team sent in as reinforcements. But others were already stationed there and said they had chosen to live in the Portland area and call it home.

A senior U.S. Marshals Service official noted that social media allows the rioters to frame the narrative in their favor:

“They can put out 10 seconds of something (on social media) that unfolded over several minutes, and those are the 10 seconds that look bad for us, whereas the rest of it would look bad for everybody,” he said, speaking of the protesters. “They use what serves their narrative.”

Federal agents endured many injuries:

The firework came whizzing over the fence so fast that the agent didn’t have time to move.

It exploded with a boom, leaving his hearing deadened and bloody gashes on both forearms. Stunned, with help from his cohorts, he stripped to his boxer shorts and a black T-shirt so his wounds could be examined and photographed for evidence.

He told his fellow agents he was more worried about his hearing than about the gouges and burns on his arms.

By the end of the night, five other federal agents would be injured, including another who got a concussion when he was hit in the head with a commercial-grade firework. One agent was hospitalized. Several agents have lingering vision problems from the lasers.

After each night of protest, they seize dozens of homemade shields, slingshots, blocks of wood and chunks of concrete.

“My friends have been hit in the head with hammers. I know people who have been shot with fireworks. It’s disgusting,” said the Deputy U.S. Marshal who’s been at the courthouse for weeks. “I’ve never thought I’d have to walk around in my office building wearing a gas mask to go sit in front of my computer.”

Another said:

“It’s scary. You open those doors out, when the crowd is shaking the fence, and … on the other side of that fence are people that want to kill you because of the job we chose to do and what we represent,” said a Deputy U.S. Marshal who has been protecting the courthouse for weeks. He requested anonymity because protesters have identified him and posted his personal information online.

“I can’t walk outside without being in fear for my life,” he said. “I am worried for my life, every time I walk outside of the building.”

A bonfire started at 2:30 a.m. Rioters used it to shoot fireworks through the fence to the agents. Then someone fired a mortar, but it didn’t injure anyone.

It died down as the sun rose in the sky:

“I finally get outside at 7 a.m., after being in the building since 3 p.m. the day prior, and I look east and I’m like, ’Oh, the world’s normal over there and people are driving to work and the city is clean and functioning,” said the Deputy U.S. Marshal. “And I look out on the street and it looks like downtown Baghdad.”


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