Portland Riot Squad Quits?
Analysis and Implications of an (apparently) successful Dilemma Action Strategy
The entire Portland Police riot squad resigned from the team last week. This was in response to an ongoing investigation by the new Multnomah county DA into their conduct at the past year’s worth of riots that has (so far) resulted in charges against at least one officer. While they remain active members of the PPB, the city no longer has a trained, experienced force dedicated to responding to demonstrations and civil disruption originating from local radical groups.
I won’t comment on the specific actions of the individual officer, other than to note it is difficult to consistently maintain composure during emotionally charged events like a riot -especially when it turns into a never ending succession of nightly call outs, like Portland saw for 120+ days last year. That sort of exhaustion and relentless tension leads to mistakes, and when those mistakes are caught on camera it becomes ammunition in a propaganda weapon. Ideologically-aligned “press” accompany local radical groups for precisely this reason, and the proliferation of “press” markings on people clearly there just to riot confuses the issue even further:
Last year after my time undercover in Portland Black Bloc, I warned in a piece for Center For Security Policy that PPB was being placed in the pincer of a Dilemma Action:
Put simply a dilemma action is a strategy using carefully-targeted types and degrees of civil disobedience to cause security forces to either concede the space and thus exhibit weakness, or respond in a manner that appears disproportionate and evokes negative sentiments in the population…
The dilemma action put the police in a conundrum: police have a responsibility to enforce order and control space, so doing nothing and allowing antifa to occupy and destroy property causes them to appear weak and ineffectual, thus inciting further acts against police. If they appear to respond too aggressively however -or intercept the march before it reaches its location, giving grounds for claims of a first amendment violation- they risk facing allegations of being tyrannical and overbearing…
The goal should be to minimize physical contact, tear gas, and flash bang deployment in residential areas while frustrating antifa’s desire to vandalize government facilities and provoke subjectively disproportionate police use of force…
…Use ranged riot control devices (such as pepper balls and impact munitions) sooner but in targeted fashion. Aim to disrupt early vandalism without engaging the larger crowd with direct force. Antifa counts on getting dramatic video of police resorting to physical force to disrupt their blocs.
The city has indicated they will rely on patrol officers and assistance from local agencies (such as OSP and Multnomah county Sheriff Dept.) and presumably the federal facilities (such as ICE and the Hatfield Courthouse) still have federal detachments for their security. However this raises questions about coordination and response, given that protests are no longer quite as intense and consistent and there is no longer a trained and cohesive local response force to serve as a linchpin.
Local radicals have been in something of a disarray, due to multiple arrests based on information provided by undercover informants as well as infighting with less dedicated groups. This suggests the loss of the RRT may be less crippling than it would have been in the Fall of 2020 (possibly also that the DA held off indicting cops until the worst had passed) but also raises some concerns about what may come next.
Historically speaking, mass-movements provide cover and support for more radical leftist elements, but the presence of less dedicated and more moderate factions also creates something of a stabilizing and ameliorating effect that curbs their worst tendencies. Now that the libs are out to brunch post-election and LE pressure and federal indictments have shaken off another layer of dilettantes, a fairly seasoned, hardcore group of true believers remain. A previous (and concerning) example of this process is how Students for a Democratic Society spun off into the Weather Underground, which then further radicalized and merged with the Black Liberation Army to create the May 19th Communist Organization.
There is the *potential* that a radicalized leftist echo chamber faction may try to take advantage of the situation with targeted, more aggressively violent direct actions, likely with an emphasis on unannounced closed bloc tactics. This sets up the possibility of more violent, confrontational and dedicated leftist cadres colliding with a pick-up team of less well-trained and relatively inexperienced officers, opening the door to a variety of poor outcomes.
An argument against this course of action is the last time it was tried (see SDS/WU/M19 mentioned above) it was spectacularly ineffective and happened within living leftist institutional memory, so the lesson has likely not been forgotten. Regardless, the situation is still in flux and bears further scrutiny.
However it plays out, the fact the Riot Team has been disbanded and PPB is (by most accounts) broken and demoralized (while hemorrhaging sworn officers to less contentious departments) indicates that the attritional, dilemma action strategy initiated last year appears to have been a qualified success.
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