It wasn’t easy to tell the difference Monday in Oregon City, Oregon, between the mainstream supporters of Donald Trump who came streaming in to the Portland suburb in a parade of trucks, SUVs, and cars all bedecked with Trump banners, along with the usual American and yellow Gadsen “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, and the dozens of far-right extremists—Proud Boys, “III Percent” militiamen, Patriot Prayer supporters, QAnon fanatics, and white nationalists—who swelled their ranks to over a thousand people. Maybe that was the point.
Likewise, when a group of Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer supporters broke away from the “Cruise Rally for Trump” and drove the 50 miles or so down to the state Capitol in Salem, there seemed to be no distinction between the extremists who both assaulted counter-protesters and made deranged speeches—including one who told the audience that “these Democrat leaders … need to be shot dead in the streets”—and the seemingly ordinary Trump supporters wearing red “Oregon Women for Trump” shirts who applauded them lustily. And maybe that was the point, too.
The overlap between supposedly mainstream Republicans and the far-right extremists who have been attracted to (and increasingly inseparable from) Donald Trump’s politics since 2015 has grown so large that it’s become impossible to tell them apart. Saturday’s “Cruise Rally” illustrated that crossover—increasingly becoming an outright takeover by the extremist right—in vivid flying colors.
A crowd estimated at over a thousand, arriving in their banner-festooned vehicles, began the day by gathering at Clackamas Community College, complete with speeches decrying Black Lives Matter, defending Portland police, and proclaiming fealty to Trump. Many also wore T-shirts honoring the memory of Aaron Danielson, the right-wing Patriot Prayer supporter who was killed in Portland on August 29 by a self-described antifascist (who was then tracked down by police and shot dead).
That death occurred after a similar pro-Trump truck caravan that was organized to travel through Portland on Interstate 5, but which ended up with multiple far-right Proud Boys driving through crowds of antifascist protesters in downtown Portland, shooting paintball guns at passersby, culminating in the late-evening tragedy. And although Monday’s event was officially organized by Oregon For Trump 2020, an ostensibly mainstream Republican Facebook page for supporters of the president, their welcome mat was clearly rolled out for the far right.
Local Proud Boys organizer Flipp Todd was among the speakers at the morning rally. “If you have not had an opportunity to meet a Proud Boy, it’s a good time to do it, because we are here for you, we have always been here for you,” he told the crowd, eliciting cheers. “We’ll continue to fight for you if you ever need security. We always make a wall for you guys to make sure that your events are safe.”
As independent journalist Sergio Olmos documented on Twitter, the caravan—with most of the license plates taped over—then debarked south, banners waving, down Interstate 205 and then Interstate 5, with most participants turning around 20 miles down the latter freeway at Woodburn. However, a cluster of about 100 rallygoers continued south to Salem for an ad-hoc protest on the steps of the Capitol building, organized by the Proud Boys.
The event began peacefully enough, but the speakers at the event were notably unhinged. One woman in an “Oregon Women for Trump” shirt briefly reflected on “everything we’re going through right now, the racial war, Black Lives Matter.” The most unhinged speech, however, came from an African American named Marcus Edwards, who displayed the presence of QAnon fanatics in the crowd as he ranted:
“The God's honest truth is the pedophile agenda is being normalized, it is being pushed forward, and I think these Democrat leaders who allowed this to happen need to be shot dead in the streets!”
The crowd applauded.
Edwards was later recorded commenting on the presence of right-wing extremists: “Even if there is a couple of racists and Nazis amongst us, I don’t even care, because they still love their country and they’re fighting for their freedom,” he said.
As the speakers were winding up, a crowd of right-wing rallygoers—many of them armed with guns and baseball bats—rushed a smaller group of Black Lives Matters counter-demonstrators, firing paint gun pellets at them. One man was caught by the group, punched and beaten with a bat, and then maced fully in the face.
A little while later, another couple of armed militiaman chased down and assaulted a counter-protester, but were quickly stopped by police, who arrested two men: Ty Parker, 53, of Durango, Colorado, and Trenton Wolfskill, 37, of Eugene, Oregon, both on misdemeanor assault charges. The men were later released, police reported.
The event broke up shortly afterward, and there were no further incidents. But the violence revealed the large gap between the reality of far-right-wing aggression at these events and the perception of the causes of the violence among mainstream Trump supporters, who blame everything on Black Lives Matter and antifa.
“You always have extremists on both sides,” a white Trump supporter named Lauri Berg, 51, told the Los Angeles Times before the rally headed to Salem. “We’re trying to help unify the country in a common message of prosperity and moving forward.”
Another Trump backer named Kim told The Washington Post that the event in Salem would be nonviolent: “We are all going to be peaceful,” she said. “If they want to keep being violent and lie about us, we’ll just get more and more patriots out here.”
These kinds of events aren’t simply about blurring the lines between the far right and mainstream conservatism: They are about making them disappear altogether.