She’s Been on the Ground Covering Portland Protests. Here’s What She’s Seen.

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Shelby Talcott, a reporter for The Daily Caller, has been covering protests in the weeks since the death of George Floyd, including in Seattle and Washington, D.C. She most recently spent time in Portland, which has become extremely violent in the past weeks. She joins The Daily Signal Podcast to discuss what she has seen and experienced. A transcript is below if you would prefer to read the interview.

We also cover these stories: 

  • The Department of State announced Wednesday that they have ordered China’s Consulate in Houston, Texas to “cease all operations and events.”
  • The U.S. is paying $1.95 billion in exchange for 100 million coronavirus vaccines. 
  • Rep. Ted Yoho, a Republican from Florida, apologized to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on the Floor of the House Wednesday morning. 

Rachel del Guidice: I’m joined today on The Daily Signal Podcast by Shelby Talcott. She’s a reporter for The Daily Caller. Shelby, It’s great to have you with us on The Daily Signal Podcast.

Shelby Talcott: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Del Guidice: You’ve been on the ground covering the situation in Portland. Can you start off by telling us a little bit about what you’ve seen so far and what it’s been like?

Talcott: Yeah. Portland’s definitely been pretty crazy. I mean, … if they continue protesting, it’ll be coming up on 60 days in a row now.

Typically, during the day, they’re stationed across the street from the federal courthouse in the small park and during the day, it’s usually pretty normal and then as the evening wears on, that’s when more and more protesters come out.

And I think on Sunday, we’re actually going back tomorrow, but on Sunday, the last day that I was there, we saw a few thousand of them. There were moms. All the moms were wearing yellow. It got pretty crazy. Protesters started tearing down fencing, getting a little bit aggressive, and then federal officers came out and teargassed everyone.

But the protesters are coming back and I think that’s the difference in Portland than in other areas. When officers typically tear gas, I’ve found in other places that really disperses the crowd and in Portland, it is not doing that anymore.

Del Guidice: Wow. So how much time have you spent in Portland so far? How many days? And how was your perspective on what you’ve seen law enforcement in their handling of these situations?

Talcott: We were in Portland just for three days and we’ll be going back for a lot longer. We’ve also been in New York City. We’ve been in D.C. and we’ve been in Seattle. So we kind of, at this point, have a pretty good idea of how these protesters act and how the officers respond.

I think, from what I’ve seen, the officers have responded after protesters have done something that they’re not supposed to, right? So one day it was very clear, there was a loudspeaker announcement going on every 10 minutes from the federal officers saying, “Do not try to interfere with the fence. Do not try to climb the fence. Do not try to take the fence down.” And protesters sort of started banging on the fences and getting aggressive. And that’s when they responded.

So I’ve largely pretty much seen these police officers respond with reason, with cause.

Del Guidice: On that note, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said on CNN, “People are literally being scooped off the street into unmarked vans, rental cars, apparently. They’re being denied probable cause and they’re denied due process. They don’t even know who’s pulling them into vans.” So since you’ve been there for a couple of days, I’m just curious, do you see any of the intervention by the federal government?

Talcott: I haven’t seen any of that. I believe … the [Department of Homeland Security] denied that. So I haven’t seen any of that. Of course, I’m not in every area at every time, but from what I’ve seen, I haven’t seen that.

Del Guidice: What’s your perspective of the protesters and would you call them rioters? Did you talk to any of them and have they talked about what their motivation is?

Talcott: I think that there’s a clear distinction. I think that they’re both protesters and rioters.

There’s definitely people in all of these cities that are protesting and they’re pushing for peaceful protest. And that’s something that we’ve seen time and time again. But then there are also people who don’t care about the peaceful protests and they almost have another sort of agenda. And those are the people we see that get violent, that start to break things.

So, I think it’s definitely a mix of both. I think in Portland, there’s a lot more rioters, I would say—people willing to take that extra step from protest to riot and start destroying stuff.

We’ve talked to some of them, we’ve listened to their conversations. There’s arguments that break out consistently between these groups because the protesters want to remain peaceful and there are other people like these rioters who don’t agree with that. So it’s definitely a mix of both.

Del Guidice: So there’s even dissension among protesters and rioters? Among the people who are gathered, there’s dissension even in those circles?

Talcott: Oh, for sure. For sure.

Del Guidice: So, I guess, what is your perspective on the area where these protests in Portland are taking place? How big of an area is it and are they occurring during the day or just at night? I know you said it gets more violent at night, but what happens during the day as well?

Talcott: During the day, it’s a lot smaller. They’ve set up tents in the middle of this park and the park’s only about one block. So it’s fairly small. It’s essentially the size of the courthouse that’s just across the street. And that’s where these protests have been going on, in that park and then into the street right in front of the courthouse.

During the day it’s almost always peaceful. There were a few disagreements.

I remember one day, midday, two men came to the courthouse to hang American flags and two or three protesters came and were like, “Why are you hanging these flags?” But it was more of a discussion. It didn’t get violent. I never thought it got incredibly tense, … they were just disagreeing, but still having a discussion.

But then pretty much as soon as it starts to get dark, they just come out in mass and there’s more protesters. It starts getting very tense and that’s when you see the thousands and thousands and it’ll go pretty much all the way up until 2, 3, 4 in the morning.

Del Guidice: What is your perspective overall of law enforcement? I know you said that they’ve given out warnings and there have been some things you haven’t witnessed. So overall, so far, from the little bit [of] time you spent there, what is your … overall reaction to what you’ve seen when it comes to what law enforcement has done?

Talcott: I think they’re doing their job, they’re protecting this federal courthouse. And it’s difficult because these protesters and rioters are getting angrier because of their presence. But if they leave, what’s the alternative, right? Does the courthouse get destroyed more? What’s going to happen? You don’t know. So do we remove the officers and then risk that or … ?

It’s hard and these officers are not messing around, but they’re also, I think, just doing what they’re told. They’re just doing their jobs. And it’s a tough situation.

I haven’t seen situations where the officers act out of nowhere. There’s certainly cases where perhaps they are too aggressive, but it’s always prompted by some other sort of aggression. So it’s difficult. If you’re in that situation and there are 3,000 protesters and there’s 100 police officers, how are you going to react, right?

I’ve only seen them really doing their jobs and reacting, but I mean, I know, of course, no system’s perfect. And there have been situations—George Floyd—where police officers and people in law enforcement have made the wrong call and absolutely done the wrong thing. So, no system’s perfect and that’s, of course, not what I’m saying.

Del Guidice: You mentioned the example of the fence and the direction from law enforcement not to tamper with it and they continue to do so. Have there been any other examples where there has been very clear direction as to ‘Don’t do this thing’ and that goes disregarded?

Talcott: Yeah. In some other cities, I think it was New York City, there were some squabbles with NYPD because typically when law enforcement comes out, in a lot of these cities what we’ve seen [is] they form a line and they start chanting, “Move back.” So that’s a direct order for protesters to back up. And some of these protesters refuse to back up.

And whether or not they’re being aggressive, they’re still disobeying a direct order from law enforcement, right? So they’re not obeying the law.

And we saw, also in D.C., the first weekend of protest, there was massive looting, things being set on fire. I mean, I walked into a local liquor store that was just completely destroyed. I mean, it was crazy.

Del Guidice: Speaking of that, have there been any times when you’ve been in Portland where you feared for your own safety?

Talcott: Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s scary because we’re going in there sort of very low key as protesters. So it is scary on both ends.

We’ve had messages that we found on social media, on Twitter, of protesters or rioters being like, “Look out for these people. They’re not there for the right reasons.” And that’s because we will film both police violence but we’ll also film the protesters doing the wrong thing and that’s not what they want. They made it very clear that they don’t want that narrative getting out. So that’s kind of scary.

We’re always watching our back to see if people sort of know who we are, but then also, the police officers and these federal officers don’t know who we are. We just look like protesters. So we have to run with these protesters when the police officers come.

Del Guidice: Well, you’ve been covering the protests in the weeks since the death of George Floyd, as you mentioned. … Can you talk a little bit about, maybe, has the tenor changed at all from the protests as they started right after George Floyd’s death to now? Have you noticed any differences? Has there been consistency or looking back to a couple of weeks now, months ago to right now, are there any changes you’ve seen?

Talcott: I think sort of the message has changed a little bit. I think when the George Floyd protests began, it was all about Black Lives Matter, police brutality, fix the system, and it’s sort of become a little bit larger.

I mean, in Seattle, there were probably several different groups inside that autonomous zone. We had those people who are still aggressively pushing for police reform because of Black Lives Matter and George Floyd but then we had other people who wanted to keep this autonomous zone forever.

And we see that in Seattle too. We actually saw some protesters stand up and say, “None of you guys care about Black Lives Matter. This has become something completely different. You guys are tearing down these courthouses, how’s that going to help us?” And these are black people saying this to these groups of just angry rioters. So I think the message has a little bit definitely been lost.

Del Guidice: You also covered the CHOP/CHAZ zone [Capitol Hill Organized Protest/Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone] in Seattle. What kinds of things did you see there, Shelby?

Talcott: That was a really interesting place. It’s an open-carry state. So totally legal. I’m all for carrying guns if it’s done legally, but we saw a lot of weapons, but the weapons were not being handled very properly.

We saw one guy who had a Desert Eagle, which, I’ve been told, I don’t know a ton about guns, but it’s not a great weapon to use for self-defense because it’s so strong. And he had made a makeshift carrier using his belt. So it was sort of just flopping around. And so that in itself … is very dangerous. So we saw a lot of that. People just brandishing their weapons, which led, of course, to multiple people dying from guns or from shootings.

And it was also there, they really did not want you to film. We had to be very careful. It was a lot of infighting because there was no sort of clear message and no clear leader. And I think that’s ultimately why it failed as much as it did, because it was just sort of a mess of all these different ideas and people battling for control over the autonomous zone.

Del Guidice: You also covered protests in D.C. and I think, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you or some of your colleagues were there the night St. John’s was set on fire. So can you talk a little bit about what that was like and what you experienced at the D.C. protests?

Talcott: The D.C. protests were interesting. I mean, that week, and that was the weekend where things were really pretty crazy. And so there was a fire in the basement of St. John’s, I believe, and then across the street, there was a fire set. I think it was a small utility building.

They were burning American flags and then police officers came and sort of dispersed the crowd and that’s when all the looting started and businesses all over were just completely destroyed.

And they weren’t even always looting businesses where they could steal things. I noticed they would loot a small restaurant, which was already closed because of coronavirus. And then they’d take the salt and pepper shakers to try to break into another business.

Del Guidice: In all that you’ve seen in the past weeks and months covering these protests, what has stood out to you or impacted you the most?

Talcott: That’s a good question. I think probably one of the things I’ll always remember are the very few protesters and people who stand up against these massive crowds. And it never goes over well, they never ended up being listened to. Sometimes it even gets violent.

But we saw in Seattle, we had a black guy come in and hold up an American flag and march through. And we saw in Portland, we saw a guy with an American flag kneeling and begging people not to break into the courthouse and not to further the damage.

We’ve seen it everywhere, these counterprotesters, and they’re always outnumbered. They always have a pretty good message in there. I feel like they’re always willing to listen. “Listen, we get that you guys are upset but this is not the right way to do things.” And I think that’s probably one of the biggest things because it’s just always so interesting to see these everyday people just doing their jobs, trying to make things better. And they’re willing to go into these incredibly dangerous situations and stand up for what they believe in.

Del Guidice: So, Shelby, to end things on a little bit lighter and more personal note, before you entered the world of journalism, you were a pro tennis player. Can you talk a little bit about what made you want to switch from tennis to journalism?

Talcott: I studied journalism in college at the University of Iowa, actually. So I always kind of knew that I wanted to do something related to journalism. And then during my four years as a professional tennis player, I sort of got to travel all around the world, which was amazing, and learn about different cultures and different people. …

That solidified my belief that I wanted to eventually do something where I could tell people’s stories and I could make the news or be the person who does that. So I’ve … had the dream of being a journalist for a long time. And when the time came for me to hang up my rackets, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

Del Guidice: Well, Shelby, thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast. We do appreciate having you with us.

Talcott: Thanks for having me.

Rachel del Guidice is a congressional reporter for The Daily Signal. Reproduced with permission. Original here.