Camouflage-clad federal officers, who were caught on video this week plucking protesters off the Portland streets and into unmarked vans, rented at least one of the vans from Enterprise Holdings rental car service, according to records reviewed by WW.
Oregon Public Broadcasting broke the story July 16 that federal agents in unmarked vehicles have detained at least two protesters in downtown Portland since July 14. The protesters say they were not breaking any laws at the time they were detained, raising questions whether the feds' actions were constitutional.
Militarized Federal Agents from a patchwork of outside agencies have begun policing Portland (in rented minivans vans) without the explicit approval of the mayor, the state, or local municipalities. This is what that looks like in practice: pic.twitter.com/losap4SsgI— The Sparrow Project (@sparrowmedia) July 15, 2020
The plate numbers were captured on video. Motor vehicle records in a national database reviewed by WW show that a van used to whisk away a protester wasn't a law enforcement vehicle but a private rental.
At least one of the vehicles that officers drove with protesters inside is a 2019 Dodge Caravan registered to EAN Holdings LLC, a company based in St. Louis. The website of Enterprise Holdings says EAN Holdings is an operating subsidiary of the agency. Enterprise Holdings owns Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Alamo Rent a Car and National Car Rental.
Portland criminal defense lawyer John Schlosser says using unmarked rental cars to arrest protesters may fall outside the normal boundaries of law enforcement in which officers acting on probable cause make arrests in marked, publicly owned vehicles. He also said it raised questions whether the people in the unmarked vehicles are, in fact, federal agents.
"Feds don't drive rental cars," Schlosser said. "Feds drive vehicles with federal license plates."
He says the arrests create fear and confusion among citizens who legally assemble. "It's state-sanctioned terror tactics," Schlosser said. "But it could just be random people dressing up and getting their jollies off."
Juan Chavez, director of the Civil Rights Project at the Oregon Justice Resource Center, says this latest development is an escalation of the militarization of American police forces.
"This is our foreign policy come home," Chavez said. "If this was happening in Pakistan, this would seem for par for the course for what special operatives are doing. That's what this reminds me of."
Mark Pettibone, a 29-year-old Portlander, told OPB and The Washington Post that he was walking home from a protest when an unmarked gray minivan veered into view and two men in fatigues jumped out.
"I was terrified," Pettibone told The Washington Post. "It seemed like it was out of a horror/sci-fi, like a Philip K. Dick novel. It was like being preyed upon."
The Nation reported this afternoon that Pettibone was arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, operating in a special task force created following a June 26 executive order by President Donald Trump. That task force, called the Protecting American Communities Task Force, is the entity carrying out the White House's "surge" in Portland to quash seven weeks of street protests against police brutality.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security did not respond immediately to WW's request for comment.
Enterprise Holdings did not respond immediately to WW's request for comment.