The veterans explained that they were "there to ensure our citizens did not have their right to free speech and their right to protest and right to assemble taken away from them."
Content warning: This report contains details of excessive force by the police that readers may find disturbing
A group of military veterans joined Portland's Wall of Moms and Dads with leaf blowers at the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests on Friday. They formed a human barrier between federal officers and demonstrators at the frontlines of the protest outside the federal courthouse in response to the use of aggressive measures against protesters in recent weeks. Duston Obermeyer, a Marine Corps veteran, told The New York Times reporter Mike Baker that he and other veterans were "there to ensure our citizens did not have their right to free speech and their right to protest and right to assemble taken away from them."
Another huge crowd tonight in Portland, including a new "wall" on the front lines: a Wall of Vets.— Mike Baker (@ByMikeBaker) July 25, 2020
Here's a look at the line of military veterans getting set up here in front of the federal courthouse. Behind them, the Wall of Moms and the Wall of Dads are arriving. pic.twitter.com/gGnXHjI3k2
"Our veterans are here specifically to support the rights of the protesters to protest," reiterated Obermeyer, who said he had been deployed three times within a decade when in the Marines. He revealed that he'd been at the protest a week prior when federal officers brutally struck a Navy veteran, who said he had approached them simply to ask a question. Speaking to The Guardian, the 42-year-old explained that he'd driven about 40 minutes from his home in the Molalla area to the demonstration that day after hearing about federal agents clad in camouflage grabbing and detaining protesters in unmarked vans.
Here is Marine Corps veteran Duston Obermeyer talking about the Wall of Vets.— Mike Baker (@ByMikeBaker) July 25, 2020
He mentions Chris David, a Navy veteran that went up to speak with federal officers last week and got brutally hit with a baton.
That backstory/video here: https://t.co/JhGC1R9ncq pic.twitter.com/gTPY1024u4
Although he'd arrived with the intention to observe first-hand what was happening, as he watched a phalanx of federal officers shoot teargas at the crowd and violently push a protester to the ground, he realized he couldn’t stand by and simply watch. "They are not supposed to be coming and attacking protesters," said Obermeyer. "They didn't even give any warning, there was no 'hey you need to move,' 'hey back up.' There was basically them walking out and assaulting a protester just to prove that they could." Dressed in a Pokémon hat and Superman T-shirt—and a cotton mask protecting his face—he walked up to the officers and asked whether they understood their oath to defend the constitution.
This is #CaptainPortland @Tazerface16 getting attacked by FEDS but from a different angle, and who I believe is your fellow USNA alumni Duston Obermeyer getting attacked beside you #wallofvets #portlandprotest pic.twitter.com/kJWr2122Zm— Laura Cranehill (@LauraCranehill) July 23, 2020
Just a few feet away, US navy veteran Christopher J. David was asking the federal agents the same question. Instead of an answer, both men were doused with tear gas and when that didn’t deter them, batons rained down on them. While Obermeyer managed to catch it and push it back, David was repeatedly hit with a baton, breaking his hand in two places. Videos of the incident show him also being sprayed in the face with a white chemical irritant that he said, "felt like flaming gasoline." Meanwhile, Obermeyer recalled an officer sticking an automatic weapon in his face, while another shot him at point-blank range with an orange chemical irritant.
After getting tear gassed last night in Portland, a member of the protest's new "Wall of Vets" said the gas was so strong it was leaving burns on his skin.— Mike Baker (@ByMikeBaker) July 25, 2020
He said it felt worse than the tear gas he recalled from his time in the Army.https://t.co/bXRTIQUPvj
Although he has experienced being gassed many times during his time serving in the Marine Corps, Obermeyer said he wasn’t sure what they had used in this case. "I've never felt worse than I did that night after being sprayed in the face," he said. His eyes and nose almost immediately closed up and he started having a difficult time breathing. Others in the crowd guided him a block away to help him flush out his eyes. It took him three days to recover. Despite both being graduates of the naval academy, Obermeyer and David had never met. However, after more than 50 consecutive days of anti-racism and anti-police brutality protests in Portland and the deployment of militarized federal agents by Trump, both veterans simultaneously felt that this was the time to start asking questions.
"I'm not a big believer in coincidence," said Obermeyer. "I believe that we both have similar feelings because we come from similar places and we truly believe in the constitution as it’s currently written and as it’s taught in grade school. And this is a violation of constitutional rights." David explained that while he believes they both came out that day because of their time at the naval academy, which instills "a deep level of integrity" in graduates, he also felt that there was perhaps an even simpler reason. "We have the ability to see what is right and what is wrong. And what we both saw was wrong and we wanted to go out there and talk to those officers," he said.
While Clint Hall—another veteran who joined Friday's protest—said he came out to support the Black Lives Matter movement, he also criticized the federal presence in the city. Carrying a "Disabled Veterans 4 BLM" sign, the Army veteran said, "Things were getting better, and then they came here and made it worse. Enough is enough." He also voiced concerns about the tear gas that was shot into the crowd, explaining that it was so strong that it was leaving burns on his skin. Noting that it felt worse than the tear gas he recalled from his time in the Army, he said, "This response from the feds is over the top."
Turns out I do support walls!— Ryan Chase (@GunReformRyan) July 25, 2020
A wall of vets joins together to protect #BlackLivesMatter protestors, along with a wall of moms & wall of dads behind them.
These walls represent compassion, equality. Trump’s wall represents hate, racism.pic.twitter.com/DEPJhOT9E1