Seattle officials uneasy as more federal agents arrive in city

Workers clean up an intersection in Seattle
Workers from a Capitol Hill property management company clean up the intersection of 11th Avenue and East Pike Street, Thursday in Seattle, where clothing from the store Rove, at left, was taken and set on fire in the street.
(Steve Ringman / Seattle Times)

More federal agents have been dispatched to Seattle to protect federal property amid lingering unrest in the city following the shutdown of a protest zone where demonstrators camped for weeks during protests over the killing of George Floyd.

The agents are with a special response team of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said she felt she was misled by acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, whom she said told her that the U.S. government had no plans to send federal agents to Seattle.

“I don’t want to say I was lied to, but I think there was maybe semantics that weren’t forthcoming,” Durkan said Friday.

Durkan urged people to protest peacefully over the weekend at planned rallies that are likely to be large. She also said she hoped to avoid a repeat of what is happening in Portland, Ore. which has seen ongoing clashes between demonstrators and federal police.


“I cannot overstate it enough: What is happening is frightening to me,” Durkan said. “It is frightening that you would use federal agents for political purposes.”

The agents sent to Seattle are on standby to help other federal law enforcement officials protect federal facilities in the city, according to two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the plans who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss the operation publicly.

The Justice Department says it will review of the conduct of federal agents who responded to protests in Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C.

The agents arrived after businesses in Seattle were vandalized in the downtown area and in the nearby Capitol Hill neighborhood. A small section of Capitol Hill was occupied last month by protesters and turned into the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest Zone.

Demonstrators took over the several-block area for about two weeks until authorities returned in force and cleared out the area on July 1 after two fatal shootings.

King County Executive Dow Constantine tweeted Thursday that a federal plane had landed at an airport in Seattle that evening and that “more than a dozen personnel drove off to an unknown destination.”

President Trump’s administration has also announced that agents would be sent to Chicago and Albuquerque, N.M.

Constantine said people in the Seattle area reject “Trump’s unconstitutional use of federal force. It is a transparent attempt to intimidate. But we will not be intimidated.”


Brian T. Moran, the U.S. attorney for western Washington, said the federal agents were there solely to protect federal properties, adding that the federal courthouse in downtown Seattle was broken into last weekend and damaged by a smoke bomb and graffiti.

“These are the places where federal judges decide cases and controversies, including those filed by protesters against the city, where Social Security benefits are processed, citizenship is made possible, and where the rights of the accused are protected,” Moran said.

In Portland, the protesters who demonstrate every night have set fires just outside a federal courthouse and torn down a protective fence. Federal agents have repeatedly used tear gas to drive the crowds away from the building, and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was tear-gassed Wednesday night as he stood in solidarity with the protesters.

Oregon’s attorney general is seeking a court order restraining the actions of federal agents in the city during the demonstrations, which have occurred nightly since George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis.


Oregon officials have said federal agents in unmarked cars wrongly detained Portland residents during the demonstrations.