Controversy Over Portland Protest Challenge Coins at DHS

Controversy Over Portland Protest Challenge Coins at DHS
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The Controversy Over DHS Portland Protest Challenge Coins

In recent years, challenge coins have become popular collectible items, especially among members of the military and law enforcement. These coins are carried by service members and presented during introductions as a sign of membership and camaraderie. However, challenge coins commemorating the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in Portland have sparked controversy and raised questions about their purpose.

What are Challenge Coins?

Challenge coins originated in the military as far back as World War I. They were used to prove membership when challenged and enhanced the bond between unit members. Today, coins are traded, collected and presented as tokens of appreciation and respect.

Coins are commissioned to mark special events, achievements or to promote a particular organization, cause or mission. They build esprit de corps and recognize service. In the civilian world, they may be given to highlight accomplishments, attendance at events, or to inspire leadership and excellence.

DHS Portland Protest Coins Cause Controversy

In the summer of 2020, large protests over racial injustice took place in Portland, Oregon for over 100 days. On several occasions, conflicts occurred between protesters and federal agents sent to protect federal buildings.

It was recently revealed thatchallenge coins were created for Department of Homeland Security (DHS) personnel deployed to Portland. They featured images of a protester in a gas mask and the city's federal courthouse. The Latin phrase "Flectere si nequeo superos, Achaeronta movebo" was inscribed on them.

The coins almost immediately drew criticism from elected officials who felt they glorified excessive force used against peaceful protesters. There were calls for DHS to denounce the coins, which many saw as inappropriate commemorations of the deployment.

Concerns Over Intended Message

While challenge coins are usually used to honor service, critics claim the Portland protest coins sent the wrong message. The large protests were characterized as "lawless destruction" by former President Trump. Honoring the response to them was seen as an endorsement of that view.

Local leaders felt the coins treated the city like a war zone rather than a community concerned over civil rights. Having images of confrontation as opposed to ideals like justice and equality on the coins added to the tensions over the federal response.

There were also objections to Latin phrase, which translates to "if I cannot move heaven, I will raise hell." Critics said this choice of words promoted an "us vs. them" mentality instead of mutual understanding between protesters and law enforcement.

A Matter of Perspective?

DHS defended the Portland challenge coins as appropriate recognition for the service of personnel working to protect federal property during sustained protests. They cited the long tradition of using coins to mark deployments and operations within agencies like U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Some felt the coins simply reflected the viewpoint of agents dispatched to maintain order amidst chaos. Images of confrontation represented the reality on the ground from their perspective. The Latin phrase described the commitment required to fulfill their duties.

There were arguments that critics were reading too much political meaning into the design. Challenge coins capture a moment in time and don't necessarily make a statement for or against the events they depict.

Impact on Public Perception

Despite debates over the intent behind the coins, they raised concerns over how federal responses to protests are viewed by the public. Even if meant as souvenirs for personnel, they symbolized something very different for Portland residents.

Government agencies have to consider how words, images and symbols might be interpreted before putting them on a coin. Anything that promotes confrontation over cooperation can undermine efforts to build trust with the public.

While challenge coins play an important role for those who serve, more care needs to be taken regarding the messaging they send. Honoring service is one thing but seeming to celebrate divisions should be avoided.

The controversy over the Portland protest coins highlights the importance of considering multiple perspectives. Finding common ground remains vital, even when it means rethinking traditional ways of recognizing those who carry out difficult duties.


What are challenge coins?

Challenge coins are small coins bearing an organization's insignia or emblem and carried by members. They are used to prove membership when challenged and to build camaraderie.

Who created the Portland protest coins?

The coins were created for Department of Homeland Security personnel who were deployed to Portland during the 2020 racial justice protests.

Why were the Portland coins controversial?

The coins were criticized for glorifying the federal response and excessive force used against protesters. The images and Latin phrase were seen as inappropriate.

Did DHS defend the coins?

Yes, DHS defended them as traditional recognition of service by personnel protecting federal buildings during sustained protests.

What was the wider impact?

The coins highlighted issues around public perception of government responses to protests. More care is needed with messaging on challenge coins.

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