PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — Dressed in yellow, a group of moms who formed a protective wall between federal troops and the 1,000-person crowd were among peaceful protesters hit with pepper balls and dozens of cans of tear gas Monday night in Portland, Oregon.

The women, who said they were there to protect the crowd, linked arms and stood their ground, even as clouds of tear gas wafted around them. Other protesters yelled their support.

“We love you, moms!”

“Thanks, moms!”

“Portland was totally out of control,” President Donald Trump told reporters in the Oval Office Monday morning, defending his decision to send federal police to the city and keep them there after the mayor, the governor and the state’s congressional delegation demanded that they should leave.

“The liberal Democrats running the place had no idea what they were doing,” Trump said.

Protests against systemic racism and police brutality, in their 53th consecutive night in Portland, have swelled dramatically in size since the federal deployments, and the brutal, constitutionally questionable tactics of federal police, including Customs and Border Protection officers, were made public. Portland is 375 miles from the Canadian border.

On July 11, federal police in Portland shot an unarmed protester in the face with a “less than lethal” munition, fracturing his skull and necessitating facial reconstructive surgery. The Department of Justice said it is investigating the officer who fired that shot.

And in the early hours of July 15, federal police with the Department of Homeland Security arrested at least two protesters without probable cause, whisking them into rented minivans, according to multiple reports.

Oregon’s top federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Billy Williams, called Friday for an inspector general investigation of those arrests. Also calling for an immediate investigation of the arrests were Senator Ron Wyden and U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum sued the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Federal Protective Service over the arrests late Friday night.

But on Monday, Trump praised federal troops in Portland.

“We will have more federal law enforcement, that I can tell you,” Trump said. “In Portland, they’ve done a fantastic job. No problem. They grab them, they put them in jail.”

Standing next to Attorney General William Barr, Trump said he plans to expand deployments of federal troops across the country.

“We’re looking at Chicago, too,” Trump said. “We’re looking at New York. We’re not going to let New York and Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore, and all of these — Oakland is a mess — we’re not going to let these things happen in our country. All run by liberal Democrats.”

Mayors across the country immediately pushed back against Trump’s announcement.

In a Monday letter to Barr and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, the mayors of Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., asked Trump to remove federal forces and not to send them to other cities.

“Deployment of federal forces in the streets of our communities has not been requested nor is it acceptable,” the mayors wrote. “These are tactics we expect from authoritarian regimes — not our democracy.”

Thousands march Monday through downtown Portland in a protest against police brutality. (Courthouse News photo/Karina Brown)
Thousands march Monday through downtown Portland in a protest against police brutality. (Courthouse News photo/Karina Brown)

In a separate letter, the mayors appealed to the leaders of Congress, requesting an immediate investigation of Trump and his administration’s actions.

Among those tear-gassed in Portland for protesting over the weekend were Multnomah County Commissioner and emergency room doctor Sharon Meieran; Sarah Iannarone, whom Mayor Ted Wheeler will face in a runoff election this November; and a crowd of several hundred.

But Trump had nothing but praise for federal police.

“They really have done a fantastic job,” Trump said. “These are anarchists. These are not protesters. These are people that hate our country.”

Protesters denied that.

Governor Kate Brown said last week she told Secretary Wolf that he and Trump should remove all federal officers from Portland.

“He is putting both Oregonians and local law enforcement officers in harm’s way,” Brown said in a statement. “This, coming from the same president who used tear gas to clear out peaceful protesters in Washington, D.C., to engineer a photo opportunity.”

Trump pushed the blame onto state and local leaders.

“I’ll tell you what,” Trump said in his Oval Office press conference. “The governor, and the mayor, and the senators out there? They’re afraid of these people. That’s the reason they don’t want us to help them. They’re afraid. I really believe they’re actually maybe even physically afraid of these people.”

Oregon’s congressional delegation announced plans Monday to push for laws requiring federal law enforcement to wear identification showing their names and the agency they work for, to require them to patrol only federal property and to announce their deployment to cities within 24 hours.

“What we have seen in the last 10 days in Portland has been horrific and unconscionable,” Merkley said in a statement. “These are the actions of an authoritarian regime, not a democratic republic. This gross violation of Americans’ civil rights must end immediately.”

Trump had a different take.

“These are anarchists,” Trump said Monday. “And the politicians out there — yes, they are weak, but they are actually afraid of these people and that’s why they say, ‘We don’t want the federal government helping.’”

Thousands of peaceful protesters gathered Monday night in front of the Multnomah County Justice Center before marching through downtown Portland. They thrust their fists in the air and yelled the names of black people killed by police. They observed several minutes of silence as they passed murals of George Floyd, killed by Minneapolis police on May 25 as he begged for his life. They chanted about justice and power and fairness and the law.

“This is worse than Afghanistan,” Trump said Monday. “This is worse than anything anyone’s ever seen. All run by the same liberal Democrats. And you know what? If Biden got in, that would be true for the country. The whole country would go to hell. And we’re not going to let it go to hell.”