Police, political activists, and Portlanders at large are bracing for confrontation Saturday morning and afternoon in the central city, as the Vancouver-based right-wing provocateur Joey Gibson leads the latest in a series of protests orchestrated by his group, Patriot Prayer. The protest, scheduled for Tom McCall Waterfront Park, will likely draw thousands of counter-protestors, a prospect that has some observers worried about a reprise of recent political street violence here and elsewhere. Gibson's gathering has attracted national attention from right-wing and "alt-right" media and personalities, while the organizer himself has engaged in increasingly heated rhetoric about Portland and predicted that many of his allies will come armed.
What's going on?
As the Oregonian notes, this protest follows on the heels of a June 30 Patriot Prayer event that devolved into violence, key moments of which have attained notoriety in right-wing circles:
Amid the melee, a masked left-wing activist suddenly charged Ethan Nordean, a supporter of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, and attempted twice to hit him with a baton.
Nordean, a hulking 28-year-old from Washington, responded with a single punch that crumpled his adversary, leaving the man unconscious.
The moment, captured on video, encapsulated what activists and observers say was the most violent clash in 18 months of tumultuous street protests in Portland, one that police declared a riot.
Footage of the beatdown has been used in the weeks since to energize right-wing activists nationwide and recruit them to attend Patriot Prayer's next event here.
This basic primer on the event and its recent background from the Washington Post also looks at the fallout from the June 30 fracas:
“[F]or 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.”
Meanwhile, multiple counter protests are in the works, and Portland Police plan a robust presence, as detailed by Willamette Week:
A large group of counter-protesters organizing under the moniker Popular Mobilization—or POPMOB—plan to show up to oppose Gibson's rally.
At recent events, clashes between antifascist protesters and far-right demonstrators have led to violence in Portland's streets. On June 30, a Patriot Prayer rally broke into a riot that sent five people to the hospital.
However, Portland police have had success in the past keeping the opposing protest groups apart. The bureau's press release hints at a return to that approach during Saturday's demonstrations, which could limit the risk for violence.
(One Twitter hashtag emerging as a locus of counter-protest information: #alloutpdx.)
The potential for confrontation has attracted international press attention, for example this datelined piece from the Guardian:
Fears of violent protest are rising ahead of this weekend’s rally in Portland, Oregon, by the conservative group Patriot Prayer.
Almost a year on from the death of the activist Heather Heyer, as she protested a gathering of white nationalists in Virginia, some groups are warning the protest on Saturday risks turning into “another Charlottesville”.
And as a Trump-era wave of rightwing street protest continues, it is not clear that American cities, or police forces, are willing or able to prevent the violence that accompanies them, some experts and activists say.
Patriot Prayer was founded by the rightwing Senate candidate Joey Gibson and its stated beliefs are not neo-Nazi or white supremacist. Like the Proud Boys group, with whom Patriot Prayer’s membership often overlaps, Gibson’s positions are best described as conservative Republican, or Trumpian.
But his critics say his events have attracted white supremacist elements and have frequently brought serious violence to the streets of Portland, and other cities in the region.
A point-by-point summary from the Portland Mercury details some of the local and national resonances:
Gibson is running to represent Washington in the US Senate. Inexplicably, he's decided to hold a campaign rally in Oregon, surrounded by people who legally cannot vote for him. This conundrum exposes what's probably the real purpose of the Saturday march: To yell at people who don't agree with their beliefs, and maybe punch a few of 'em in the process.
Gibson's right-wing rallies in the notoriously liberal bubble of Portland have begun to attract riled-up alt-righters from across the country. Patriot Prayer members have claimed that a number of supporters are "flying in" to participate in Saturday's protest. More than 300 people have indicated they're attending on Gibson's Facebook event page. The threats and hateful messaging around this particular event prompted the Southern Poverty Law Center to dangerously dub the event the "next Charlottesville."
OPB has reported that Gibson himself does not have an Oregon permit to carry a concealed weapon, and says he won't be armed. As Slate noted all the way back in 2013, so-called “open-carry” protests seem to be on the rise as a tactic:
Whether or not open-carry counterdemonstrations are a good thing, they are assuredly a thing. Opponents of gun control strap on weapons and parade around to prove that parading around with weapons is constitutional and that they have a First Amendment right to say so… These are demonstrations that target gun-control activists at their meetings and demonstrations that attempt to provoke the police into responding. By that definition they are expressive First Amendment activity. The question is whether that activity can and should be limited.
As noted in coverage above, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist groups nationwide, has sounded significant concern:
Emboldened by the June 30 fighting, more Proud Boys and other far-right activists have stated their intention to attend. And the far-right web forums are filled with paranoid rhetoric and talk about guns and other weapons.