According to The Oregonian the federal government is using a rarely enforced civil disorder statute to prosecute at least two protesters in Portland (“Feds start leveling rare civil disorder charges against demonstrators for alleged violence at Portland protests,” Sept. 3, 2020). The article notes the law is also being applied in other cities in the United States, and that the law was adopted in 1968 during a period of “civil rights turmoil.” On September 3 two more people were charged under the civil disorder statute: Pointing lasers at officers during Portland protests now leads to federal civil disorder felony allegations, The Oregonian (Sept. 4, 2020).
The law in question is 18 U.S. Code § 231. Civil disorders. Generally the states have broad power to enact criminal statutes, while the federal government is limited to enforcing criminal laws on federal land or property, that involve actions crossing state lines, or in areas explicitly allowed by the U.S. Constitution. So how does the federal government get the ability to enact a broad civil disorder statute?
The answer, is found in a part of the statute itself; subsection (a)(3) reads: