The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Violent clashes erupt between far-right groups and racial justice protesters in Portland and other cities

Protesters with ties to the Proud Boys, an alt-right group, face off against Black Lives Matters protesters using mace and a paintball gun Saturday in downtown Portland, Ore. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images )

PORTLAND, Ore. — Far-right extremists and continued clashes between Black Lives Matter protesters and police this weekend renewed tensions in Portland, Minneapolis and other cities, pushing the country into its 80th day of consecutive demonstrations in some places.

A group with ties to far-right organizations that have long targeted Portland gathered downtown Saturday afternoon to wave American flags and push back against Black Lives Matter protests challenging police brutality. The event ended with two gunshots.

Protests in other cities also erupted into violence Saturday, as police grappled with small groups hijacking otherwise peaceful events, including far-right activists armed with pepper spray and wooden flagpoles.

One clash ended in fistfights after Proud Boys marched in Kalamazoo, Mich. Police intervened as the Proud Boys retreated into a parking garage, about seven minutes after a large brawl broke out between members of the far-right group and their opponents. Officers arrested some counterprotesters who had come out to oppose the right-wing group.

In Chicago, a protest also grew violent after people used umbrellas and skateboards to attack police officers, injuring 17. Twenty-four people were arrested.

And just before midnight Saturday, a group of roughly 50 protesters, most dressed in black and wearing full-face masks, descended on the 5th District police precinct in South Minneapolis.

The group lobbed rocks and fireworks at the building. The station’s front windows were sprayed with anti-police graffiti, and red paint was poured along the steps of the front entrance and the sidewalk.

“Blood on your hands,” one message read, while another referred to officers as “pigs.”

Early Saturday afternoon in Portland, far-right extremists walked around a few downtown blocks, trading barbs with antifascists. Video shows several people in the far-right crowd using pepper spray and pellets fired from paintball guns against the counterprotesters.

As the protest wrapped up, a car drove out of a parking garage, witnesses say, and one of the people inside the car pulled out a gun and fired two shots as they sped away. No one was injured.

“A blue Toyota Corolla came tearing out, and then out of the driver’s seat two shots were fired,” said Laura Jedeed, a freelance journalist who witnessed the shooting.

Video of the incident posted on social media appears to show two shots fired from the driver’s-side window of a blue car pulling out of a parking garage into the street. It’s not clear who fired the shots.

A reporter with local TV news station KOIN heard the two gunshots pop. Witnesses picked up a bullet casing outside the garage, according to KOIN. Freelance photographer Paula Bronstein also witnessed the gunfire.

The Portland Police Bureau initially told The Washington Post that officers were aware of a scuffle, pepper spray use and a paintball gun at the rally, but said they had not received evidence of gunshots. About three hours later, the bureau confirmed one injury at the event and acknowledged allegations that shots had been fired.

“An officer took a report this afternoon after a person was injured after being hit in the face with a paintball fired from a paintball gun,” the bureau later said in a statement. “The groups moved a short distance from Southwest 3rd Avenue and confronted each other near Southwest 4th Avenue and Southwest Yamhill Street. During that confrontation a person allegedly fired a gun.”

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler did not respond to a request for comment on the alleged shooting.

Some critics noted a disparity between how police responded to the right-wing group downtown and the left-leaning crowd that gathered outside a police building Saturday night. Officers did not intervene downtown despite reports of violence and gunshots, but they confronted protesters later that night after a small number of people in a large crowd threw fireworks at the police building and defaced it with graffiti.

The Portland Police Bureau said its resources were stretched thin on Saturday afternoon because of a crisis negotiation taking place with an armed man that lasted more than 17 hours.

Gunfire stemming from far-right demonstrations targeting Portland has long been a fear for the city, since Patriot Prayer, Proud Boys and other right-wing groups began singling it out as a battleground to fight “antifa.” Since 2017, members of those groups have threatened to bring guns to large rallies and staged on a parking garage roof with long guns, and at least one person has been arrested for flashing a handgun.

A separate militia-like group called American Wolf, which has been known to mace and shoot paintball rounds at left-leaning protesters, showed up at Saturday night’s Black Lives Matter protest to confront the crowd. Fewer than a dozen men, including the group’s leader, Peter Diaz, were met in the street by dozens of black-clad protesters before they could reach the larger crowd near the police building. People shouted for Diaz and his men to leave, and they did after several minutes of yelling back and forth. Most of the men drove away in a stretch limo with “American Wolf” painted on the side.

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A disparity in police response was on display Saturday night, as hundreds of Black Lives Matter protesters gathered outside a police building in southeast Portland.

The crowd remained peaceful for hours, but eventually a small number of people in the crowd began escalating tactics to draw out police. At least two fireworks were thrown into the driveway of the building. Two people dressed in all black approached the building and banged on the boarded-up windows, sprayed graffiti on the wall and damaged a security camera. A handful of people in the crowd threw rocks, eggs, glass bottles and plastic water bottles, which landed in the driveway of the building.

A short time later, police declared a riot. They deployed smoke and rushed the line of protesters, who had created a barrier at the property’s edge with shields. Officers then chased protesters into a residential neighborhood for almost an hour. They made 11 arrests, on charges including disorderly conduct, interfering with a peace officer and riot, among others.

Meanwhile, by Sunday morning, the bureau had not yet announced whether it is actively investigating social media reports of gunfire and a possible bomb at the right-wing event earlier in the day.

Bailey reported from Minneapolis.