As Portland officials prepared for a potentially explosive stand-off between far-right groups and anti-fascist demonstrators in August, Mayor Ted Wheeler formally requested that Gov. Kate Brown keep more than 100 Oregon National Guard troops ready to respond.
By the next day, the request had been denied — though communicating that decision to Wheeler appears to have been an afterthought.
Newly released documents offer a glimpse at the extent to which state and city officials planned for the Aug. 17 demonstrations, which drew national attention and worry of mass violence on the city’s waterfront.
The documents also appear to be the first confirmation that city officials formally requested possible National Guard intervention for the protests, but were rebuffed. Spokespeople for both Wheeler and Brown had been cagey about whether such an ask was made.
The dueling demonstrations on Aug. 17 wound up being largely peaceful, with city police successfully keeping a right-wing demonstration organized by the Proud Boys separate from a larger anti-fascist gathering.
But in the days ahead of the rally, city officials planned for the worst. Public records released by the governor’s office show that Wheeler met with Brown and a collection of state and federal justice officials on Aug. 12 in Salem. Among Wheeler’s requests at the meeting: that roughly 120 airmen from the National Guard be kept ready to respond, in case demonstrations went on long enough that city police had to be relieved of their shifts.
After consulting with Michael Stencel, the National Guard’s adjutant general, documents suggest Brown quickly decided even the potential of deploying troops was a bad idea.
“The city’s request for Guard resources was denied due to a lack of intelligence that there would be a civil disturbance at a level which would warrant the Guard’s intervention,” Constantin Severe, a public safety adviser to the governor, wrote in a memo. “Additionally, given the strong political undercurrents around the planned demonstration the Guard’s participation could escalate the situation.”
Severe noted that, while some Guard troops have received crowd control training, “they have no experience being deployed to an event similar to the August 17 event.”
Severe’s memo suggests Brown concluded on Aug. 12, hours after meeting with Wheeler, that troop involvement wasn’t appropriate. The following morning, Stencel, the National Guard leader, wrote to an FBI official about the decision.
But no one appears to have thought to tell Wheeler. City officials only learned about the move when Severe forwarded a copy of Stencel’s email to the FBI, roughly 10 hours after it was sent.
The mayor’s office did not take kindly to being left out of the loop, the records show.
“The mayor’s office received this email forwarded to us as an FYI and was given verbal notification that the governor had denied the city’s request,” Kristin Dennis, Wheeler’s chief of staff, wrote to the governor’s office. “We are confused and concerned by the adjutant general’s decision to only contact the FBI and not the city, both to notify us about the denial and to acquire information about ‘any new developments.’”
Dennis repeated the insistence that National Guard troops would only be required if protests lasted longer than 10 hours, a point at which Portland police officers would need to be relieved.
“Of course, we are hopeful that we will not need to ever call the service members off of standby to relieve PPB officers, but we need to have a plan for this scenario,” Dennis wrote. “I want to be sure that the Governor’s denial is of our actual request.”
The Aug. 17 protests largely fizzled out within hours. Documents suggest National Guard officials planned to monitor the event, in case troops did become necessary. Brown’s office did approve deploying Oregon state troopers to assist with crowd control, with dozens more troopers ready to respond if necessary.