Homeland Security officials said yesterday that they are preparing to deploy federal agents to Chicago, and President Donald Trump threatened to send US law enforcement personnel to other Democratic-led cities experiencing spates of crime as he defended his use of force in Portland, where agents have clashed nightly with protesters and made arrests from unmarked cars.
Calling the unrest in Portland "worse than Afghanistan", Mr Trump's rhetoric escalated tensions with Democratic mayors and governors who have criticised the presence of federal agents on US streets, telling reporters at the White House that he would send forces into jurisdictions with or without the co-operation of their elected leaders.
"We're looking at Chicago, too. We're looking New York," he said. "All run by very liberal Democrats. All run, really, by the radical left."
"This is worse than anything anyone's ever seen," Mr Trump continued. "And you know what? If Biden got in, that would be true for the country. The whole country would go to hell."
With his poll numbers sinking amid widespread frustration at his response to the pandemic, Mr Trump has cast himself as a law-and-order strongman who will pacify US communities roiled by spreading disease, the economic crisis and large street protests for racial justice.
Three Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials said the agency has been preparing to deploy agents from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to Chicago, but that operational details are not yet finalised.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the agents, who are part of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations division, would not engage in immigration enforcement operations and probably would assist with intelligence-gathering and targeting of the drug-trafficking groups and gangs driving the violence.
Mr Trump has mentioned New York and Philadelphia as two other cities where his administration is looking to send in federal agents, but two DHS officials said Chicago is the only city where their plans have advanced.
The 'Chicago Tribune' first reported on the plans Monday and said up to 150 agents would be involved, but the DHS officials said the size of the HSI contingent would likely be smaller.
DHS officials involved in the preparations also said the federal agents would be directed by the Department of Justice, and their assignment in Chicago would be very different from the standoff between federal forces and protesters in Portland, despite the president's attempts to link the two.
On Sunday, Mr Trump lashed out at the Democratic officials in Oregon who have asked his administration to withdraw from Portland, saying the tactics of DHS agents was exacerbating the confrontation outside the federal courthouse where violent clashes have played out recently.
Border Patrol SWAT teams from the agency's BORTAC tactical unit have squared off against militant protesters including anarchists wielding fireworks, laser pointers and slingshots.
"The Radical Left Democrats, who totally control Biden, will destroy our Country as we know it," the president tweeted on Sunday. "Unimaginably bad things would happen to America. Look at Portland, where the pols are just fine with 50 days of anarchy. We sent in help. Look at New York, Chicago, Philadelphia. NO!"
Portland and Seattle are the only cities that have seen sustained clashes between militant protesters and authorities. The federal forces have mostly been withdrawn from Seattle. In Portland, they remain to defend the federal courthouse that has become a proxy for the Trump administration.
Last month, Mr Trump assailed state and city officials for the violence, describing them as having a "lack of leadership". In response, Democrat Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on Twitter that Mr Trump was "using the victims of gun violence in our city to score cheap political points".