The Proud Boys are coming to Portland, Oregon, this Saturday, and they’re planning on bringing the heavy-duty violence. Or they simply are exercising their free speech and will only engage in self-defense. It depends on which side of their mouth they’re talking out of.
In the weeks leading up to the planned “End Domestic Terrorism” rally that the notorious street-brawling organization announced in early July, its chief organizer—a self-promoting provocateur named Joe Biggs, formerly a reporter for the Infowars conspiracy mill—posted an endless stream of trash talk on social media.
In one video he posted online, Biggs can be seen swinging around a Trump-themed baseball bat, promising to bring it with him to Portland, where it will be “put to good use.” And that’s just a sampling.
However, as the date has approached and the traditional press has begun reporting on the rally plans, the tone from the Proud Boys has shifted to an innocent, friendly pose. Biggs promised The Daily Beast that his street brawlers would only engage in violence if they were attacked first. He and Enrique Tarrio, the Proud Boys’ national chairman, both told The Oregonian that they had decided to reel in their rhetoric, and were now telling their members not to bring weapons after all.
When the rally was first announced, Biggs broadcast a video to Periscope, while wearing a shirt with the words “Training to Throw Communists Out of Helicopters”—a variation on the popular “Pinochet Did Nothing Wrong” T-shirts the Proud Boys sell on their website—in which he launched into a verbally violent eruption at his antifa critics.
“You’re not gonna feel safe when you go out in public,” he warned. “Every time you turn your shoulder or your head, you look over, you’re always gonna feel like myself or someone else is gonna be there looking, because that’s what we’re going to do. You’re scum, you’re filth, you’re anti-American socialist fucking pricks, and I’m not gonna let that shit happen in this country.”
Claiming the rally is being organized by a group of people from elsewhere who are angry that Portland is “allowing domestic terrorist to run their city,” Biggs later urged his Twitter followers: “Get a gun. Get ammo. Get your gun license. Get training. Practice as much as you can and be ready because the left isn’t playing anymore and neither should we.” He followed that with a “Death to Antifa” meme featuring an image of a corpse in a plastic body bag.
Their supporters have chimed in with memes depicting ISIS-style beheadings of antifascists with large knives, along with comments expressing their unquenched desire to “exterminate” far-left activists. “I fully expect [an] armed conflict to break out on Aug. 17,” one commenter said. “People may die this is the real deal.”
It’s this kind of rhetoric that has given Portland’s police chief, Danielle Outlaw, serious pause as the planned rally approaches. If people are planning to bring violence to the city, she has a message for them: “Don’t come. We don’t want you here. I don’t care what side you’re on.’’
She said her officers plan to use aggressive tactics: “We will be there in mass to ensure that we can react and ensure there are quick and swift consequences,’’ Outlaw said. “There will be both.’’
No one has applied for a permit for a rally yet, so none has been issued. The Proud Boys say they intend to assemble near the waterfront along the Willamette River downtown, while various antifascist groups have announced their plans to assemble a large counterprotest.
The event is being planned ostensibly as a response to an incident June 29 in Portland, when right-wing journalist/provocateur Andy Ngo—who has a history of inserting himself in the middle of antifascists at protests despite their requests he leave, due to his track record of helping to dox them—was assaulted by anonymous black-clad antifascists and hit with a milkshake.
A simultaneous police-generated rumor that the milkshakes contained concrete—which turned out to be wholly false—helped generate a large-scale backlash from both right-wing media and a number of their traditional media counterparts (notably CNN) in their sympathy for Ngo. Meanwhile, Ngo appeared on Fox News with Tucker Carlson, and his GoFundMe fundraiser raised more than $200,000.
On the hardcore “Patriot” and Trump-supporting far right, however, the reaction was even louder and more visceral, prompting Proud Boys leaders such as Biggs and Tarrio to plan a march in Portland. Flyers announcing the event as a “Stand Up for Andy Ngo” rally were shared widely on social media.
Portland has struggled with a seemingly endless parade of these far-right rallies featuring riotous and violent confrontations between the Proud Boys and other far-right street brawlers, primarily Patriot Prayer, a militia-friendly organization from across the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington, led by another tireless self-promoter, onetime Senate candidate Joey Gibson.
Portland’s police bureau in particular has come under fire for its transparent coddling of these outside agitators, particularly its reluctance to rein in Gibson’s frequently violent cohorts. The department came in for harsh criticism when emails obtained through public-records requests showed the bureau’s liaison with Patriot Prayer being inappropriately cozy with some of its more violent actors, notably a large Samoan named Tusitala “Tiny” Toese who at one time was Gibson’s right-hand man.
While Toese remains affiliated with the Proud Boys, an internecine rift over internal politics within competing factions in Patriot Prayer induced a spectacular breakup within the organization since then. Gibson and Patriot Prayer these days are more focused on combating newly passed gun laws in Washington state by promoting “constitutionalist” legal theories at the local and county levels. Toese, who faces assault charges from one of many incidents in which he’s been involved, has fled to Samoa.
While Gibson has made supportive noises in the direction of the organizers of Saturday’s event, there’s no evidence that Gibson and Patriot Prayer will be present—though it’s also entirely likely that he would show up just to help stir the pot.
Tarrio—who also doubles as the director of Latinos for Trump’s Florida chapter—has participated in previous Portland riots, most notably a “free speech” event June 30, 2018, that turned exceptionally violent.
"We're not going anywhere," Tarrio said last year. "You'll see us at protests, rallies. I have no doubt that Trump will win in 2020. If you want to see who Trump really is, you wait until those last four years, when he has nothing to lose."