The deputy director of the Department of Homeland Security says federal officers in Portland suffered 113 eye injuries while guarding a courthouse from activists armed with powerful lasers.
The usually green beams produce uncomfortable heat, unlike common small red pointers, Ken Cuccinelli said Tuesday at a Senate subcommittee hearing on the clashes in Oregon.
“We’ve had a number of officers who have days-long blindness. So far they’ve all kind of come back, if you will,” Cuccinelli said. “But you also get what’s called flash blindness. Think of it as the old Kodak cameras where you get that blue spot and you can’t quite see your entire field of vision for a period.”
Cuccinelli brought a high-powered laser as a prop to a Senate subcommittee hearing hosted by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) focused on Antifa violence during protests against the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police. He said the devices could be purchased on Amazon.com.
The novel laser attacks drew attention last month as President Trump deployed federal officers to bolster the besieged federal court building. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said at a briefing in July that three officers were believed to have been permanently blinded.
Although Cuccinelli said all officers recovered their sight, he said activists appear to be aiming to maximize damage.
“A tactic that quickly developed among the violent participants in these activities was to cut those holes in the shields and instead of standing back at the back of a crowd and aiming at the eyes of officers, they will also now bring the shield up close and bring it right up into you. And so the intensity of the strike to the eyes of the officer is much more significant,” Cuccinelli said.
The Homeland Security leader, a lawyer who has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, said, “For those of you who are engineers like me, it’s a square function. So if you’re twice as far away, it’s a quarter of the energy.”
Cuccinelli said lasers create problems for officers, who cannot look toward the beams to identify suspects. He said the lasers are green because the light is brighter. Overall, there have been 277 officer injuries to 140 individual officers, he said. Hearing damage is the second most-common officer injury.
“The human eye sees the green part of the spectrum more brightly than say red, something like 10 times brighter,” Cuccinelli explained.
Democrats at the hearing largely described violence attributed to Antifa, or “anti-fascist,” activists as a distraction from misconduct of police and what they said was the improper deployment of federal agents to Portland.
“What we’ve seen in Portland, Oregon, is peaceful protesters in need of protection from federal officers,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). “The hearing we should be having is one called the right of the people peaceably assemble without being beaten up by unidentifiable federal agents.”
Cuccinelli said some protesters are indeed peaceful, but others aren’t.
“This is sort of the Portland formula: there’s peaceful protesting until 10 or 11 o’clock, and then they go away. And maybe some of them come back, but the group that comes back is A.) much bigger, but also they come back for violence,” Cuccinelli said.
The DHS official shared various war stories from two nights of clashes, which he said would have seen the destruction of the courthouse if feds did not respond.
“We’ve had accelerants poured into the courthouse while commercial grade mortar style fireworks were being shot into the doors and attempt to light it. Also, while the side doors the exits of the building were being blocked, were being barricaded closed,” he said.