Rights activists and lawmakers expressed outrage on Friday over reports that federal agents circulating in unmarked cars in the western US state of Oregon were grabbing and detaining protesters off the streets.
"What is happening now in Portland should concern everyone in the United States," said Jann Carson, interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Oregon. "Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street, we call it kidnapping.
"The actions of the militarized federal officers are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered," he added.
According to interviews conducted by Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), federal law enforcement officers have been driving around downtown Portland and detaining protesters with no explanation since at least July 14.
Mark Pettibone, a 29-year-old demonstrator, recalled being terrified when an unmarked minivan pulled up next to him early Wednesday and men with green military fatigues jumped out and detained him.
"It seemed like it was out of a horror/sci-fi, like a Philip K. Dick novel," Pettibone told The Washington Post. "It was like being preyed upon."
Pettibone said he was taken to the federal courthouse and later released without being told why he had been detained, or whether he had been charged with a crime.
In a statement on Friday, US Customs and Border Protection said its agents were behind the arrest carried out as they "had information indicating the person in the video was suspected of assaults against federal agents or destruction of federal property."
"Once CBP agents approached the suspect, a large and violent mob moved towards their location," the agency said in a statement sent to AFP. "For everyone's safety, CBP agents quickly moved the suspect to a safer location for further questioning.
"The CBP agents identified themselves and were wearing CBP insignia during the encounter," the statement added. "The names of the agents were not displayed due to recent doxing incidents against law enforcement personnel who serve and protect our country."
Federal officers have been deployed in Portland as part of President Donald Trump's plan to crush nightly protests outside the city's federal courthouse and another court building.
The protests against racism and police brutality were sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and have taken place across the country for more than six weeks.
"A peaceful protester in Portland was shot in the head by one of Donald Trump's secret police," Senator Ron Wyden wrote in a tweet on Thursday that also denounced Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security who visited Portland the same day.
"Now Trump and Chad Wolf are weaponizing the DHS as their own occupying army to provoke violence on the streets of my hometown because they think it plays well with right-wing media," Wyden said.
The governor of the state, Kate Brown, also hit out at the Trump administration.
"This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety," she wrote in a tweet. "The President is failing to lead this nation. Now he is deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland in a blatant abuse of power by the federal government."