Barr testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and expressed doubt that the federal courthouse in Portland would be standing today if the Trump administration did not take action and send federal agents into the city.
“Do you deploy federal law enforcement to protect federal property?” House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-OH) asked.
“Yes,” Barr said.
“Would the federal building in Portland be standing today if you had not deployed federal law enforcement,” he pressed.
“I don’t think so,” the attorney general replied, detailing the protesters’ persistent attempts to destroy the building in recent days:
“There have been multiple attempts to set it afire. And I have to say, I don’t understand why a small contingent of Marshals inside the court poses a threat to anybody’s First Amendment rights,” Barr said.
“They set up a fence on federal property, I am told, around the court and when people are arrested, it’s because they’re trying to come into the fence. These are not peaceful protesters,” he said, explaining that the demonstrators often bring power tools to cut through the wire to enter the restricted area.
Barr explained the situation further, describing “100, 120 federal people behind the fence trying to protect the building and all these people are trying to cut their way in.”
The attorney general also
noted, earlier in the hearing, that rioters in Portland come “equipped for fighting,” armed with “powerful slingshots, tasers, sledge hammers, saws, knives, rifles, and explosives devices.”
Their use of explosive devices was put on full display early Tuesday morning, as a protester
tossed a Molotov cocktail “or similar destructive device” at the courthouse, which then “burst into a fireball when it struck the building, causing a report to be heard and felt more than a block away,” according to the Portland Police Bureau:
On Monday, Portland Police
affirmed the discovery of a bag filled with loaded rifle magazines and Molotov cocktails, posting a photo of the findings on social media:
Similarly, there were also reports of protesters
hurling what appeared to be Molotov cocktails toward officers defending the federal building early Monday morning:
Authorities have arrested 72 demonstrators in Portland and charged 60 with crimes, Department of Justice (DOJ) spokeswoman Kerri Kupec
said on Monday:
“What makes me concerned for the country is [that] this is the first time in my memory that the leaders of one of our great two political parties, the Democratic Party, are not coming out and condemning mob violence and the attack on federal courts,” Barr said during Tuesday’s hearing.
“Why can’t we just say: ‘Violence against federal courts has to stop?’ Could we hear something like that?” he asked.