Screams echoed. American flags waved menacingly. Fireworks and flash-bang grenades shook the downtown streets. Fists and feet started swinging.
On June 30, as a faceoff between opposite ends of the political spectrum exploded into a street fight, Portland, Ore., law enforcement jumped into action. The march, organized by Patriot Prayer, a far-right outfit with a history of sparking conflict, was met by anti-fascist — antifa — and other counterprotesters. As the clash escalated, the event was declared a riot. Officers in body armor tried to unknot the scuffles. Four people left the scene in ambulances, the Portland Police later said in a statement. Four others left in handcuffs.
But for the march’s organizers, the melee was arguably a success.
“Today was good in terms that we showed that there’s a political move right now to have the police stand down in order to impact free speech in some of these big cities,” Patriot Prayer’s leader Joey Gibson told KOIN. “Portland’s the last city on the West Coast that’s doing that, so we just have to keep hitting it — I don’t see what else to do other than that. We’ll make Portland so ugly in terms of how they allow these protesters to charge us when we have a permit.”
This weekend, Portland is bracing for round two. Gibson, who is running as a Republican for a U.S. Senate seat from Washington, is planning to hold a “Freedom March” on Saturday at the city’s waterfront, the Portland Mercury reported.
It’s shaping up to be a possible tinderbox. Fringe-right media outlets like Alex Jones’s Infowars have promoted the event, and Gibson has reportedly promised that followers from across the country will attend, including members of the Proud Boys, a self-described “western chauvinist” group known for their distinct Fred Perry polo shirts.
“We’ll have people locally showing up from Vancouver, Portland, Hillsboro, California. We have people flying in from Texas and the East Coast,” he told Oregon Public Broadcasting. Some of those attendees will also reportedly be armed, prompting the Southern Poverty Law Center to wonder if this weekend could be “Another Charlottesville?”
In response, local leftist and antifa groups are prepping counterprotests. Once again, Portland could again be the scene of a clash — another illustration of the partisan tears in the current American social fabric.
Patriot Prayer organizers will be busing followers in from Vancouver, a Portland suburb in Washington state, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. In a Facebook video posted on June 30 promoting the march, Gibson said armed guards will be on hand to protect supporters from antifa attacks.
“Everyone should be carrying around guns at all times, especially in our situation,” Gibson said in the video, according to KOIN. “I cannot think of one rally when we didn’t have guns with us. . . . Everywhere we go, we have guns.”
According to the Oregonian, Portland’s code does not allow firearms in parks unless the individual carrying has a valid state concealed-handgun license. Gibson, a Washington native, told OPB he will not be armed at the event.
Counterprotesters are promising to meet Gibson and his followers head on. A handful of leftist groups have organized a counter action on Facebook, “Resist Patriot Prayer: Violent Alt-Right Bigots Off Our Streets.”
Four groups — Eugene Antifa, Rose City Antifa, RASH NW and Pacific Northwest Anti-Fascist Workers Collective — have banded together for the confrontation.
“We make no apologies for the use of force in keeping our communities safe from the scourge of right-wing violence. Make no mistake, these people are coming here with the intent to harm and threaten people,” the event’s posting states.
“We must be that front line. We may not be muscle bound gym rats, we certainly aren’t the sort of sadistic bullies we are facing, but never the less we have to go out there and be the ones willing to physically protect people already under attack in our communities.”
According to OPB, the Portland Police Bureau is planning to release a statement on Friday about how law enforcement plans to handle the rally and counterprotesters.
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