A day of protest in Portland as ‘Proud Boys’ converge on the city
By Mike Baker, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Kaitlin Gillespie
Hundreds of law enforcement agents swept across Portland on Saturday, making targeted arrests, shutting down intersections and seizing weapons in a largely successful effort to keep opposing political rallies across the city from erupting into violent conflict.
A rally organized by the Proud Boys — a far-right group notorious for engaging in brawls — had led Gov. Kate Brown to declare a state of emergency before the events, which also included rallies organized by local protest groups whose members had announced that the outside group was not welcome.
At the Proud Boys gathering, where some people wore tactical gear and carried weapons, there was some brief conflict when a handful of outsiders arrived and were quickly surrounded by a crowd. Video posted by a local journalist showed a man kicking someone who had been knocked to the ground. Police said they were investigating the assault.
About half a mile away, on the other side of Interstate 5, about 200 people gathered peacefully with Black Lives Matter flags and made presentations about the history of that corner of the city, where many Black families first established roots during World War II.
Dre Miller, an activist with one of the organizing groups, said the groups had been approached by city officials asking them not to go forward because of the possibility of conflict. But he said the group took precautions, including setting up a car caravan to minimize chances of conflict as ralliers departed. And by sticking to their goals of highlighting the history of racism in the neighborhood where the Proud Boys had scheduled their rally, he said, the gathering was one of the most peaceful he had been to in recent weeks.
“Our Black organizers are going to stick together and stick to the message,” he told the crowd.
The Proud Boys chairman, Enrique Tarrio, said he was grateful that the police presence — estimated by the Oregon State Police at 500 officers — had kept the groups apart.
“We got all of our speakers on stage, we got to say what we wanted to say, we did what we wanted to do, and now we’re out of town,” Tarrio said Saturday afternoon.
Political and law enforcement officials had expressed fears that Saturday’s competing events could become violent, as they have in weeks and years past, especially with gunshots fired recently by both sides on the streets of Portland and the tensions of a presidential campaign.
But what was setting up to be a violent showdown in the middle of downtown Portland began to change when the Proud Boys altered their plans, moving their rally to a relatively remote park on the northern edge of the city, while groups such as Rose City Antifa announced that they would gather at a different park miles away.
Portland has not been the only scene of unrest across the country. Demonstrations across the country kicked up after a grand jury in Kentucky decided not to indict either of the Louisville police officers who shot Breonna Taylor, a Black emergency room technician, in her own apartment.
The protests continued Saturday in Louisville, though they were somewhat subdued. Shortly before the 9 p.m. curfew there, protesters cleared out of the downtown square that has been a central gathering point for demonstrations. Some went to a nearby church, where they ate dinner, listened to music and talked.
Police arrested a handful of protesters as they attempted to leave downtown, and were planning to march again later in the evening.
The Proud Boys had billed their gathering in Portland as an opportunity to counter the city’s long-running racial justice protests, with Tarrio posting online that “antifa is in for a bad time” if law enforcement was not present.
Several hundred people gathered at Delta Park on the city’s north edge, mingling, drinking and shouting. Some in the crowd broke into expletive-filled chants against antifa, the loose group of activists who sometimes use violence to stop people from promoting views they deem fascist or racist.
In addition to the assault reported by the police, there were several other confrontations when people suspected by members of the crowd of being antifa activists walked into the area.
A few Portland police officers, who had largely stayed away from the center of the event, briefly entered the park and tried to defuse the skirmishes. A helicopter circled overhead as the proceedings began with the national anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance, and a host of speakers began condemning the racial justice protesters who have gone nightly into Portland’s streets, as well as the city’s leaders.
Along with the Black-led gathering nearby, hundreds of other local protesters gathered a few miles away at Peninsula Park for a day of crafts and other activities. A group of black-clad demonstrators loaded their own makeshift plastic shields from a bus on their way to the rally, while medical crews set up tents.
Doreen McGrath, a 63-year-old activist, said she had driven in with a group of about 25 people from Seattle. Their group stood on the outskirts of the gathering, chanting and waving signs. “Hey there, Proud Boys, you better hide,” they chanted. “We can see your fascist side.”
Authorities reported arresting three people, and officers also confiscated at least two hardened shields. “We will seize weapons and shields as can be done safely and as resources allow,” a spokesman said.
The scene was different at the Proud Boys venue, where a man told those who had come together in the early afternoon that he had 30 shields to give out. The man arrived at the gathering with vehicles emblazoned with the words “American Wolf,” seemingly referencing an armed civilian militia-like group based in Washington state.
Later, the Portland Police pulled over a truck carrying Proud Boys supporters as they were leaving and seized guns, baseball bats and several shields.
The Proud Boys group has strongly criticized Mayor Ted Wheeler of Portland for not taking a stronger line against the protesters who clashed with agents outside of a federal courthouse downtown in nightly confrontations over several weeks. The Proud Boys welcomed Brown’s emergency order, which also allowed state and local police to use tear gas, which the mayor had banned city police officers from using.
In Philadelphia on Saturday, dozens of Proud Boys marched through downtown city streets, followed by police officers on bikes. Some carried American flags and Trump 2020 flags while chanting derogatory comments about antifa, videos on social media showed. Some onlookers heckled them, mocking their appearance and clothing.
As the Proud Boys rally came to an end in Portland, police directed traffic out of the park, funneling motorists directly onto a freeway that would take them over the Columbia River — out of the city and out of the state.