US Politics

Scuffles and arrests at a far-right rally in Portland, Oregon

Police disperse hundreds of protesters from left and right amid chants of ‘Nazis go home’

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 August, 2018, 6:13am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 August, 2018, 9:21pm

Small scuffles broke out Saturday as police in Portland, Oregon, deployed “flash bang” devices and other means to disperse hundreds of right-wing and self-described anti-fascist protesters.

Just before 2pm, police in riot gear ordered people to leave an area downtown, saying demonstrators had thrown rocks and bottles at officers.

“Get out of the street,” police announced via loudspeaker.

There were arrests, but it was not immediately clear how many. There was also debris left in the streets by various protesters.

Demonstrators aligned with Patriot Prayer and an affiliated group, the Proud Boys, gathered around mid-day in a riverfront park.

The hundreds of opposing demonstrators faced them from across the street, holding banners and signs. Many of them yelled out chants such as “Nazis go home.”

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Officers stood in the middle of the four-lane boulevard, essentially forming a wall to keep the two sides separated.

The counter-protesters were made up of a coalition of trade unions, immigrant rights advocates, democratic socialists and other groups.

They included people dressed as clowns and a brass band blaring music.

The rally organised by Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson was the third to roil Portland this summer.

Two previous events ended in bloody fistfights and riots, and one counter-protester was sent to the hospital with a skull fracture.

This time, Gibson changed the venue from a federal plaza outside US District Court to a waterfront park so some of his Oregon supporters could carry concealed weapons as they demonstrate.

Protesters saw a significant police presence that included bomb-sniffing dogs and weapons screening checkpoints.

In a statement, police said weapons may be seized if there is a violation of law and added that it is illegal in Portland to carry a loaded firearm in public unless a person has a valid Oregon concealed handgun license.

Many protesters are expected to be from out of state.

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Gibson’s insistence on bringing his supporters repeatedly to this blue city has crystallised a debate about the limits of free speech in an era of stark political division.

Patriot Prayer also has held rallies in many other cities around the US West, including Berkeley, California, that have drawn violent reactions.

But the Portland events have taken on outsize significance after a Patriot Prayer sympathiser was charged with fatally stabbing two men who came to the defence of two young black women – one in a hijab – whom the attacker was accused of harassing on a light-rail train in May 2017.

A coalition of community organisations and a group representing more than 50 tribes warned of the potential for even greater violence than previous rallies if participants carry guns.

It called on officials to denounce what it called “the racist and sexist violence of Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys” and protect the city.

Gibson, who is running a long shot campaign to unseat Democratic US Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state, said in a live video on Facebook earlier this week that he will not stop bringing his followers to Portland until they can express their right-wing views without interference.

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“I refuse to do what Portland wants me to do because what Portland wants me to do is to shut up and never show up again. So yeah, I refuse to do that, but I will not stop going in, and I will not stop pushing, and I will not stop marching until the people of Portland realise that and realise that their methods do not work,” he said.

Self-described anti-fascists – or “antifa” – have been organising anonymously online to confront Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys in the streets.

A broader counter-protest organised by a coalition of trade unions, immigrant rights groups and artists planned to gather at City Hall before the Patriot Prayer rally.

Organisers say that while Patriot Prayer denies being a white supremacist group, it affiliates itself with known white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazi gangs.

“Patriot Prayer is continuing to commit violence in our city, and their events are becoming more violent,” said Effie Baum of Pop Mob, a coalition of community groups organising the counter-demonstration. “Leaving them a small group to attack in the streets is only going to allow them to perpetuate their violence.”

Duelling protests a month ago ended with Portland police declaring a riot and arresting four people. A similar Patriot Prayer event on June 4 devolved into fistfights and assaults by both sides as police struggled to keep the groups apart.