Portland, OR – On Saturday, August 4, 2018, weeks of far-right agitation culminated in a tense standoff between a few hundred supporters of the Patriot Prayer and several thousand anti-racist counter-protesters. The rally came just a month after events on June 30, when another Patriot Prayer rally attended by many members of the Proud Boys, a violent far-right street fighting club, ended in several counter-protesters being beaten and hospitalized.
The event was billed as a “Joey Gibson For Senate Freedom Rally.” Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson is running for state senate in Washington state, but his campaign events have mostly been held in Oregon. Patriot Prayer and its supporters have repeatedly targeted Portland over the last year, openly stating their desire to attack both Portland’s status as a pro-immigrant ‘sanctuary city’ as well as besiege the vibrant anarchist, left-wing, and progressive social movements active in the area.
Gibson had publicly stated his intent to bring firearms and openly sought conflict, asking his followers to come to Portland to “bleed together” at what national media outlets speculated could become “the next Charlottesville.”
Saturday’s rally ended up being attended by other groups as well, such as members of the Three Percenter militia, some of whom sported a patch with a combination of the ‘III’ symbol and the Confederate flag – patches also seen during street battles in Charlottesville during Unite The Right.
Overlap in attendance between Unite the Right and Patriot Prayer rallies has become one major apparent contradiction with claims by Joey Gibson’s group, along with the Proud Boys, that they are opposed to white supremacy and fascism.
Also in attendance at Gibson’s ‘freedom rally’ was a group calling itself the Hiwaymen, whose Alabama-based leader Billy Sessions attended Unite the Right and recently posted a tweet blaming car attack victim Heather Heyer for her own death.
Another Unite the Right attendee seen at the event was Christopher Ritchie of Austin, TX, who was present in the same distinctive body armor he wore in Charlottesville.
American Guard, a paramilitary white nationalist group founded by former neo-nazi skinheads and present at Unite the Right, also sent a contingent to Portland, who wore American flag face masks. (One of our recent investigations uncovered membership overlap between American Guard and the Proud Boys.)
Infowars reporter Owen Shroyer, whose boss Alex Jones has heavily promoted Joey Gibson’s events, was seen with Antonio Foreman, a neo-nazi who attended Unite the Right. Foreman was apparently working as a bodyguard for Shroyer, a service he had previously provided to white supremacist internet personality Tim Gionet aka ‘Baked Alaska.’ To top things off, Jimmy Willingham, a member of Patriot Prayer’s Oregon chapter, was photographed at Saturday’s event sporting Nazi ‘SS’ tattoo.
Joey Gibson raised the profile of his event and drew concern from many in the community when he announced he was moving the rally to Tom McCall Waterfront Park on Southwest Naito Parkway, where Oregon laws would allow demonstrators to carry firearms. Portland police would later announce restrictions on weapons in the rally area, although they were not consistently enforced.
Patriot Prayer did not get searched when they entered their "weapons free" zone because they agreed to stay in there. But then they were allowed to leave, without search, and do just about whatever they wanted. This was one of their attendees climbing up on a bank building. pic.twitter.com/gfKHvK4k9z
— Shane Burley (@shane_burley1) August 5, 2018
The day began with a few right-wing attendees as well as several antifascists and reporters walking into the fenced-off rally area in the park, with police mostly waving people through without searching them. After some of the earlier attendees had their wooden flag poles confiscated, the group relocated to an area near the park’s fountain, where police returned their poles to them. When Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys supporters and members arrived, word spread that their group would not be going inside the designated rally spot because they preferred to remain armed.
Joey Gibson’s right hand man, ‘Tiny’ Toese, a Patriot Prayer leader and also an initiated member of the Proud Boys, arrived with a large group bearing confederate flags. Toese wore a shirt emblazoned with the words ‘Pinochet Did Nothing Wrong,’ a reference to Chile’s US-installed fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet, who ruled for decades and murdered thousands of political dissidents and tortured tens of thousands more.
The shirt worn by Tiny and several others also had the acronym ‘RWDS’ printed on the sleeve, which stands for ‘Right Wing Death Squads.’ RWDS was a common slogan painted on shields that were used as weapons by neo-nazi groups such as Vanguard America at last year’s Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville.
Proud Boy ‘Tiny’, recently involved in several assaults, is at Portland Patriot Prayer rally wearing a “Pinochet did nothing wrong” shirt. Augusto Pinochet, the US-installed Chilean fascist dictator, ran a regime which killed at least 3,000 & tortured over 20,000 ppl#AllOutPDX pic.twitter.com/LutQfE6nst
— UNICORN RIOT 🦄 mastodon.social/@UnicornRiot 👈 (@UR_Ninja) August 4, 2018
Soon, hundreds of anti-racist protesters began to gather across the street, the large group quickly overflowed into Southwest Naito Parkway. A large force of hundreds of Portland police officers in riot gear then moved into the area, forcing counter-protesters onto the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street from Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys.
Police kept the two groups mostly separated for a few hours, with some Joey Gibson supporters crossing the street to start fights, some later returning back to their group with blood dripping from their heads.
Then a group of several hundred antifascists masked and dressed in all black arrived, wearing helmets and carrying large banners reading ‘GTFO Ya Jabronis,’ ‘Welcome to Hell,’ ‘Antifascist Zone 503,’ and ‘Bitches Against Nationalism.’ The black bloc contingent was then reinforced when an even larger march arrived, including a marching band and many people dressed as clowns.
After a few hours the Patriot Prayer/Proud Boys crowd began to move up and down the strip of the waterfront park they had rallied in, and the much larger anti-racist protest crowd on the opposite side of the street would move to match them. Both sides seemed intent on outmaneuvering police in order to confront one another, with one antifascist approaching the Proud Boys’ barricade and launching a barrage of confetti into their faces before taunting them and running away as police approached.
Eventually the Patriot Prayer demonstrators began moving out of the waterfront area and towards downtown, followed by anti-racists who blocked their route but were still kept apart from the far-right group by several lines of riot cops.
The Portland police issued several requests to crowds to disperse, claiming they were justified in doing so because they had observed weapons in the crowd. (Items that could be used as weapons had been present on both sides all day and the order was not clearly being given to one side or the other. Neither Patriot Prayer nor counter-protesters had a permit.)
Then, several officers suddenly fired concussion grenade rounds directly into the crowd, injuring several people, before lines of riot cops charged directly at the group, beating people with batons and ripping the ‘GTFO Ya Jabronis’ banners out of the hands of protesters standing on the front line.
Several projectiles, including bottles, rocks and paint, were thrown at police after they had fired explosives into the crowd and charged protesters with batons. While Portland Police claimed that their attack on the antifascists was justified by projectiles thrown from the crowd, no evidence has emerged that anything was thrown at police until after officers attacked protesters. A reporter from The Oregonian was struck in the head by a projectile after police they charged the crowd, and was hospitalized but not seriously injured.
Four people were reportedly arrested as cops charged protesters for a series of blocks in a cat-and-mouse chase through downtown Portland after police declared a riot. Officers discharged dozens of flashbang grenades and fired mace and rubber bullets at protesters, who lit flares and pulled patio furniture and other objects into the streets to obstruct police movements.
Several groups of Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer supporters were walking through downtown around this same time, getting into fights with their opponents and yelling racist and homophobic slurs.
So I saw the dude who was being homophobic call a dude in a pink shirt a “faggot” and I asked him why he did that. These are the kind of “free speech” people these Patriot Prayer events bring out. #DefendPDX #AlloutPDX pic.twitter.com/LKLb3pdHrj
— Michael (@michaelbivins44) August 5, 2018
This guy yelled white power called the ppl the n word and faggots while putting on his fighting shorts pic.twitter.com/TktggydOyM
— Zac Conklin-Farrell (@zacconklin) August 4, 2018
The bearded man yelling slurs in this video is Dennis Leroy Morgan III–his personal Facebook URL is a reference to East Side White Pride, the white supremacist gang responsible for the murder of Mulugeta Seraw (https://t.co/zZezF9lHHX). https://t.co/xIlugssLDA
— Always Antifascist (@RoseCityAntifa) August 5, 2018
Other Joey Gibson followers had to get through angry counter-protesters in order to get to their parked vehicles. One truck full of Proud Boys was seen spraying bear mace out of several of its windows at anti-racist protesters as it exited a downtown parking garage.
Eventually, both Patriot Prayer attendees and the larger anti-racist counter-protests both re-converged where they had been situated earlier, on opposite sides of Southwest Naito Parkway by the waterfront. Joey Gibson’s supporters slowly shrunk in number as their small fleet of retired miniature school buses drove a repeating route to pick people up and drop them off in Vancouver, Washington, where they had been bused in from in the morning.
By Saturday evening reports and images emerged that an antifascist protester had been shot in the back of the head by a police munitions round. The police projectile had struck the person’s helmet, who was presumably shot from behind, in the back of their head. The munition partially punctured the helmet, drawing blood and opening the skull. A trauma nurse who treated the man reportedly said “the hit would have been lethal if he wasn’t wearing a helmet.”
CW: very graphic.
My comrade was shot in the back of the head by @PortlandPolice today. He was hit with the very first flash bang the cops shot. Make no mistake this was an act of aggression and there will be hell to pay @tedwheeler #defendpdx #AllOutPDX pic.twitter.com/oSHqhpyzfC
— The Real Veronica Sawyer (@wherestherevolt) August 5, 2018
Michelle Fawcett, a 52-year old documentary producer, also sustained injuries and third-degree burns after a police grenade hit her in the arm.
Several journalists and news photographers were also struck by police munitions.
According to the Western States Center, a nonprofit organization based in Portland, police actions “gave the appearance of aligning with Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys.” Observers also claimed that far-right attendees were allowed to carry wooden poles in the protest area despite police statements that such objects would not be allowed. Joey Gibson reportedly got law enforcement to agree to not search people entering the fenced off rally area despite police claims that they would be searching attendees for weapons.
A joint statement from the Oregon chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Portland Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) issued a statement denouncing the police use of force and calling for an independent investigation as well as forming a civil rights division in the state’s Department of Justice (no such division currently exists in Oregon.)
CAIR-Oregon Spokesperson Zakir Khan said:
“Today Portland Police initiated violence causing injuries against peaceful civilians and a coalition of community groups organizing the counter-demonstration, as well as journalists who were covering Saturday’s events. Throughout the rally, Portland Police primarily focused upon protecting the alt-right groups’ hate bias-motivated behavior, including escorting its members throughout the area and allowing an unpermitted parade to commence through the streets of downtown Portland after the rally. When alt-right groups repeatedly disobeyed Portland Police commands, there were zero consequences. All people deserve EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER LAW. This discriminatory behavior causes us a great deal of concern and the Oregon Department of Justice must investigate the tactics that took place at these events.”
Portland police say the Office of Independent Police Review will conduct an investigation into “allegations of injury” resulting from police actions. Portland police chief Danielle Outlaw, who announced the investigation, was in command of police actions on Saturday. This week Portland Police officials have doubled down on defending police use of force during the protest but also announced they would be suspending the use of flash-bang grenades. Police Chief Danielle Outlaw claims that officers first fired into the crowd only in response to projectiles thrown at them – a claim that does not seem to be supported by any evidence and has been contested by many journalists who were present.
According to the Oregon chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “no other police force in America uses crowd control weapons with the regularity of the Portland Police Bureau.” Portland Police are currently facing a lawsuit stemming from similar actions in which they unloaded munitions into, and carried out illegal mass detentions of, hundreds of anti-racist protesters who were opposing a Patriot Prayer rally on June 4, 2017.
Portland Police reports obtained by the Willamette Weekly in 2017, showed that officers were inclined to view Patriot Prayer more favorably than their opponents, with one lieutenant describing Joey Gibson’s group as “more mainstream” than anti-racist counter protesters who they described as “volatile.”
Some anti-racist protesters we spoke with also pointed to examples of far-right and fascist sympathies in local law enforcement that they believe leads to biased policing of protests. Mark Kruger, a Portland Police Captain who has been repeatedly sued for using excessive force on protesters, was disciplined in 2010 after word got out that he had been erecting memorials to German Nazi soldiers. More recently, in July 2018, Erin Willey, a sheriff’s deputy in nearby Clark County, Washington was fired after being exposed as an active supporter of the Proud Boys.
Joey Gibson has announced his next rally will be taking place in Seattle on August 18.
All of our livestream coverage from Saturday in Portland can be viewed below:
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