PORTLAND, Ore.—The hate group Proud Boys descended on this city for the umpteenth time with the intention of provoking a massive brawl with antifascist counterprotesters on Saturday, but it did not happen. Instead, both sides spent the better part of the day shouting at each other behind police barriers, marching in groups around the city, and then they went home.
Billed as an “End Domestic Terrorism” rally by Proud Boys organizers—directed at antifascists, who they denounce as domestic terrorists—about 800 of them arrived at the city’s waterfront by late morning, waving flags and chanting “USA!”
There to greet them were well over a thousand counter-protesters, including some black-clad antifascists wearing masks. At the height of the encounter, the two sides shouted and chanted at each other behind a jersey barrier manned by two lines of Portland police officers who kept them separated. And then the Proud Boys abruptly turned and headed the other direction.
The buildup to the demonstration had been intense, with national Proud Boys leaders Joe Biggs and Enrique Tarrio indulging in violent threats directed at antifascists, along with vows to come to Portland’s downtown fully armed. Portland officials pleaded with the public to remain calm and with the Proud Boys, who began reeling in their rhetoric, not to become violent. Donald Trump, meanwhile, posted a tweet suggesting that antifascists were the main source of the nation’s domestic terrorism, and warning the mayor not to let anything bad happen.
Earlier in the week, warrants were issued for five members of Patriot Prayer, the far-right group long affiliated with the Proud Boys that has organized most of the anti-leftist Portland demonstrations of the past two years, by Multnomah County prosecutors on a variety of charges arising from an incident in May in which members of the group attacked a group of antifascists at a Portland cider bar. Chief among them was Joey Gibson, the group’s leader, charged with felony rioting, who turned himself in on Friday, was released—and promptly showed up at Saturday’s event.
The morning’s activities Saturday were almost entirely confined to the city’s waterfront along the Willamette River, a long stretch of grass and walkways; the jersey barrier erected by police was at about the midway point.
Before police had arrived in force, however, a group of about 20 Proud Boys and their supporters set themselves up at a spot about 200 yards inside the counter-protesters’ side of the barrier, and several of them held forth on a bullhorn about the evils of left-wing intolerance for the better part of an hour. Eventually, they began attracting a crowd of antifascists and others, drawn from the large gathering of counter-protesters at the other end of the park.
fter awhile the cluster of Proud Boys was surrounded by chanting protesters, and there were angry verbal exchanges, but no fighting broke out. The scene broke up quickly, moreover, when the large gathering of several hundred Proud Boys from the park’s other end began marching en masse.
The two sides then shouted at each other across the jersey barrier for about half an hour. Then, abruptly, Biggs and Tarrio announced that instead of fighting, they were going to march. So the entire collection of them reversed direction to the park’s southern end, then marched up to and over the city’s Hawthorne Bridge, which was closed off to pedestrians for the event.
When the marchers arrived on the other side in front of a city fire station, they were greeted by a contingent of supporters from the far-right American Guard. This is an organization founded and overseen by onetime violent skinhead organizer with a penchant for recruiting white supremacists into his leadership ranks.
The Proud Boys then gathered for about an hour on the river’s eastern bank, where Biggs shouted a few words into a megaphone, the crowd chanted “USA!” a few more times, and then spent most of the time socializing with other and planning what to do for the rest of the day. A counterprotester was chased out by the crowd, while a bicyclist who happened upon the gathering began engaging in a heated discourse with some of the Proud Boys, but otherwise it was a chance for sometimes-competing far-right factions to smile and chat and take selfies.
Eventually, a group of about 50 marchers, led by Gibson and Haley Adams of Patriot Prayer, took off and headed south along the river. Along the way they passed the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, where a handful of Proud Boys noticed a family of African-American museum-goers watching them with wide eyes through the glass, so they stopped and waved their signs at them.
Eventually this group, which was accompanied and guided by two Portland Police Bureau liaison officers, crossed back over the Willamette at the Tilikum Crossing cable bridge, then took the long march back up to Portland’s downtown. Along the way, Portland residents let the marchers hear their displeasure: One woman ran out of a nearby office building and shouted “Boo! Boo! Go home!” from an upper veranda, while bicyclists who passed them flipped them off and told them to go home too.
One cyclist trailed them for much of the march from a slight distance, taking photos on her cell phone. This heightened the group’s paranoia, and several Proud Boys went out of their way to menace her.
Eventually the marchers reached downtown again, and participants began peeling off until only about 20 of them remained. They continued north through the downtown, keeping to the sidewalks and waiting for traffic lights, and finally turned into a mere handful by the time they reached Burnside Street, a major arterial. This group continued for a few more blocks and then broke up to find buses to their gathering point across the river in Vancouver, WA.
In the meantime, the much larger crowd of counterprotesters kept their event at the park’s northern end going well into the afternoon, until its main contingent decided to march downtown as an assertion that it had successfully kicked the Proud Boys out of their town, chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!”
That’s when things went sideways: The crowd was so large that it completely blocked traffic for several blocks. Portland Police wearing riot gear arrived on trucks designed to carry large numbers of them, and they began ordering the protesters to clear the streets.
Scuffles began breaking out, and several protesters were arrested. Among them was a woman who writhed and complained about the handcuffs they placed on her.
While this was occurring, several small groups of roving Proud Boys and their supporters were also getting into conflicts with antifascists, particularly at the bus stops where they were attempting to get out of town. One group broke a window on a bus, while another fight at a bus stop featured an American Guard member wielding a hammer. Three people at a Yamhill Park bus stop, wearing III Percent militiaman gear, were verbally harassed until they left.
And a well-known street-brawling provocateur named John Turano, who goes by the nom de plume “Based Spartan” was caught on video being chased, along with his adult daughter, by antifascists, after they reportedly had been engaged in harassing people on the streets in Portland. Turano has a long record of bringing his daughter with him to participate in these far-right riots.
Eventually, police reported 13 arrests in total, and there certainly was no broad-ranging street violence, as in previous versions of these events. The Proud Boys reportedly spent the evening celebrating their success, such as it was, in Vancouver. Portland just breathed a sigh of relief that it was over—for now.
Immediately afterward, Biggs and Tarrio announced that the city was going to be targeted for monthly rallies unless the mayor take measures to remove antifascists from the city. "Either he takes charge and removes the scourge of violent domestic terrorists from his city, or we come back month-after-month," Tarrio said.
Mayor Ted Wheeler was having nothing of it. "In this national environment, where we've had some mass shootings just a little over a week ago, there is an environment of fear," Wheeler told reporters. "There is rhetoric that is aimed predominantly at women and people of color and immigrants. It creates a sense of uncertainty and a sense of fear. And so, Mr. Biggs and others saying that they're going to come here, that feeds into that sense of fear.
"So I want to be very clear: We do not want him here in my city, period."