The far-right “Patriots” who organized Sunday’s Proud Boys rally in Portland, Oregon, cynically billed the event as “Summer of Love” while preparing for the event by sharing ideas about combat gear and ginning each other up for the street brawling that is their raison d’etre.
Then, following a rally at which Proud Boys speakers urged violence against their “Antifa” opponents—and with no police anywhere in sight—they set about attacking anyone they perceived as their enemies, engaging in running street brawls, overturning vehicles, and assaulting people in their cars while destroying them. It all culminated in gunfire in downtown Portland, which finally brought hordes of police to the scene.
The rally originally was planned for mid-afternoon at the city’s main waterfront park in the heart of downtown, but organizers made a shift Sunday morning and moved it to the parking lot of an abandoned Kmart in the northeastern part of the city. With the city park abandoned, antifascists gathered in their place and held a celebration opposing hate groups throughout the morning and afternoon.
Organizers for the event had sent out fliers featuring ‘60s-style psychedelic graphics, a Volkswagen, and text promising “Patriots Spreading Love Not Hate.” But among themselves, they shared photos of their street-fighting gear and admonitions to prepare for violence.
The same admonitions continued at the rally itself, as speakers took the stage to urge the audience to take action because “God has called us to this,” while others attacked members of the press.
One notoriously violent Portland-area Proud Boy, Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, threatened violence against transgender people: “If you wanna, you know, go into female bathrooms, then stop lying and identifying yourself as a woman. You know, tell the truth. Just say you identify as a pervert. Why lie? Tell the truth. But guess what? If you wanna identify as a woman and go in there, I’m gonna follow you in there as a woman, too. Then I’ll whoop your ass. Because I’m not playing this Democrat game.”
Proud Boys also climbed atop the abandoned Kmart and spread a banner reading, “Free Our Political Prisoners,” an apparent reference to the Proud Boys and others currently awaiting trial for their roles in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection in Washington.
“Right now, we have approximately 103 patriots from Jan. 6 indefinitely detained,” one of the speakers said. “Fifty-one of them, I believe at last count, in Washington, D.C. Anyone speaks out, they suffer retribution. These jailers are locking them down, putting them in the hole. A lot of things are going on. It’s totally unconstitutional.”
The violence erupted when a phalanx of black-clad antifascists marched past the parking lot where the rally was being held, and a cluster of Proud Boys began chasing them. A van involved in the situation came to a halt at the edge of the parking lot, and its occupants also were chased down Sandy Boulevard.
A series of roving street battles followed, featuring sticks, batons, baseball bats, paintball and Airsoft guns, and wafting clouds of bear mace accompanied by bursts of fireworks. Participants on both sides carried large shields.
Some Proud Boys returned to the abandoned van—a Metro ambulance van designed to carry people with disabilities—and proceeded to break out its windows, then tip it over and destroy the equipment inside.
Others caught up to an antifascist at his parked pickup truck, which appeared to be carrying water supplied for the counterprotesters. They slashed his tires, broke out his windows, and sprayed him with mace, after which one Proud Boy with fighting gloves entered the cab and began beating the man. The man eventually was able to get out of the truck and flee the scene.
The running street brawls eventually petered out, but then some Proud Boys began making their way to the downtown area, where large numbers of counterprotesters were still gathered. That eventually led to the gunfire.
Guardian reporter Jason Wilson, who witnessed the shooting, said the incident occurred around 6 p.m. when antifascists attempted to chase out a man observed rallying with the Proud Boys earlier. The man took cover behind a solar-powered trash receptacle and then pulled out a handgun and began firing at the cluster of antifascists across the street. One of the antifascists pulled out his own gun and fired back, after which the man fled down a side street. Bystanders, including reporter Sergio Olmos and a Latino family inside a nearby vehicle, scrambled for cover.
Police arrested the man a couple of blocks away and booked him. Dennis Anderson, 65, was charged with unlawful use and possession of a firearm shortly after the shooting, according to The Oregonian. Anderson’s bail at the Multnomah County Jail was set at $7,500.
Before the event, Portland Police published a statement announcing that they intended to stay out of the protest. “You should not expect to see police officers standing in the middle of the crowd trying to keep people apart,” Chief Chuck Lovell said. “People should keep themselves apart and avoid physical confrontation.”
Eric Ward of the Portland-based Western States Center, a nonprofit that focuses on human rights and which participated in Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s “Choose Love” rally the day before, voiced anger and concern about the failure of authorities to recognize the dynamic at work in the Proud Boys events—namely, “paramilitaries from outside this community descended on Portland to spread bigotry and engage in intimidation.”
Despite every indication that participants at today’s rally were coming to Portland with the intention of inflicting destruction, far too many local, state and federal leaders made the decision to ignore the danger posed by anti-government and white nationalist groups—as if closing our eyes to the threat of violence would somehow make it go away.
Elected leaders from our neighboring jurisdictions, our state and our federal government need not only to raise their voices against white nationalism and political violence, but to enact policies that tackle this threat head on, including stronger laws regarding paramilitaries, more training and support for government employees combating anti-democratic attacks, examination of political bias in law enforcement, improved information sharing, and a dedicated desk at the Department of Justice focused specifically on anti-democratic and hate groups.
Over the past four years, Portland has become an epicenter for the far-right strategy of organizing right-wing thugs from exurban and rural areas to invade liberal cities with events designed to create scenes of street violence, for which they not only come prepared but which are in fact the chief attraction for their members.
Following the arrests of multiple Proud Boys leaders and members in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection, it appeared that the organization’s chief strategy going forward was to spread out into members’ communities, attach themselves to local right-wing causes and events, and then bring violence to those situations. Portland had already seen a version of that strategy unfold two weeks beforehand.
Now, it’s clear that their traditional big-event rally, intended to draw Proud Boys from around the nation to descend upon a targeted city, will also remain a useful tool in their strategic manual.