Following their emerging post-Jan. 6 strategy of attaching themselves to local events, Proud Boys in Portland, Oregon, tangled over the weekend with counterprotesters and antifascists in the downtown area. It led to a number of ugly scenes with armed and armored men in masks pointing their rifles at journalists and onlookers.
The clashes originated on Saturday, when a far-right evangelical preacher using Proud Boys as “security” held a rally downtown at the city’s waterfront park. This naturally attracted counterprotesters and resulted in some fights and tossed fireworks; those conflicts later spread downtown, where a group of Proud Boys tangled with antifascists briefly. Then, on Sunday evening, even more Proud Boys prowled the downtown streets with weapons and roaring pickups, but the confrontations remained brief.
The weekend’s violence was sparked by a warmup act for a weekend waterfront rally by right-wing pastor and Christian rocker Sean Feucht, who has been organizing anti-COVID-measure protests as part of a West Coast tour. Canadian preacher Artur Pawlowski, another anti-masker, was setting up to speak to a small crowd on Saturday when the event was broken up by antifascists.
While Fox News and others portrayed the Saturday brawls as an attack on a Christian group by antifa (Andy Ngo described it as “a coordinated violent attack on Christian families”), the conflicts appear primarily to have begun between protesters and the “security” team, which was populated primarily by Proud Boys and militiamen.
Feucht had held a rally in downtown Portland in August 2020 that also was a protest against state COVID-19 restrictions that attracted several hundred maskless participants, but relatively few protesters.
On Saturday, the dynamic was reversed, with a very small anti-mask crowd there to listen to Pawlowski. The antifascists confronted several far-right brawlers, including Patriot Prayer’s Joey Gibson, early in the dispute. They then began tossing the group’s loudspeakers and public-address system into the nearby Willamette River. Portland Police broke up the fracas.
Conflicts continued between counterprotesters and the security team during the rest of the Pawlowski presentation. Bang fireworks were tossed, reportedly into a group of children at one point. Afterwards, the confrontations carried over into the streets of downtown Portland, and some of the Proud Boys could be seen strolling through carrying batons, baseball bats, and paintball rifles. A cluster of them encountered a band of antifascists, threatened to assault them, and were sprayed with mace that scattered them. Many piled into the back of a pickup and fled.
"The Nazis came out and we drove them off again," antifascist Wade Varner told the Portland Tribune’s Zane Sparling. "I'm sitting here, totally unarmed, in a wheelchair, and this fucker shoots me in the face with a paintball.”
On Sunday, Feucht’s rally again attracted a substantial crowd of several hundred. Afterwards, Feucht tweeted out thanks to his security squad with a photo of them (including Gibson), with a threatening text:
These are all ex-military, ex-police, private security & most importantly LOVERS OF JESUS & freedom. If you mess with them or our 1st amendment right to worship God - you’ll meet Jesus one way or another.
The post-rally conflicts on Sunday, however, were more widespread and intense, thanks primarily to the presence of Proud Boys “security,” who threatened and assaulted bystanders. One of the security teams was led by notorious Proud Boy brawler Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, who threatened protesters with various weapons, including batons and a two-by-four.
As evening descended, the fighting became more intense and more widespread. Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Sergio Olmos recorded a number of the confrontations, which took place over the better part of an hour. Antifascists lobbed fireworks at the Proud Boys, while Toese egged them on by promising to hit them with a baseball bat. Large pickups drove aggressively through the protesters, seemingly intent on hitting some of them.
At one point, a man who appeared to be carrying a semiautomatic rifle was seen toting it around the streets of Portland (where open carry of firearms is illegal), walking past a crowded bar. He also was observed pointing it at a photojournalist who was following him, as well as at an unarmed Black protester who yelled at him.
The man reportedly turned himself in to police, who then ascertained that the man’s rifle was in fact a nonlethal Airsoft pellet gun designed to imitate an AR-15 semiautomatic. He was released and continued to prowl downtown streets.
As Toese and his cohorts left Portland, they fired Roman candles directed at the protesters. The fireworks ricocheted off downtown buildings.
Afterwards, highly regarded Portland minister Rev. Chuck Currie lambasted Ngo and Fox for painting the whole affair as an attack on Christians.
“This was no ‘family Christian prayer event,’” he wrote. “It was a far-right political rally organized by a failed MAGA congressional candidate from CA.”