FBI infiltrated Portland social justice protests with surveillance teams, report

The federal teams were initially dispatched in July 2020, amid the summer of social justice protests and riots across U.S.

Updated: December 23, 2021 - 8:30am

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The FBI set up extensive surveillance operations inside the summer 2020 social justice protests and riots in Portland, Oregon, according to a news report published Thursday.

The operation is detailed in documents obtained by The New York Times and current and former federal officials.

The federal teams were dispatched in Portland July 2020, as the social justice protests and riots spread across the country after those that started in Minneapolis roughly two months earlier when George Floyd was killed while being arrested by police. 

The Times said the teams were sent to protect Portland's federal courthouse after protesters lit fires, smashed windows and attacked law enforcement officers, including a federal officer being attacked with hammer. 

The FBI's role expanded and lasted for months as activists began targeting storefronts and other properties.

Protest organizers and civil rights groups said surveillance agents having recording and followed protesters amid a demonstration was a form of domestic spying.

The agency has broad latitude to conduct surveillance when agents suspect threats to national security or that federal crimes may be committed, according to The Times.

The FBI's special agent in charge of the Portland field office told the newspaper that the office was committed to pursuing "violent instigators who exploit legitimate, peaceful protests and engage in violations of federal law."