PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — More than 1000 demonstrators gathered along Portland’s waterfront Saturday in an anticipated clash of ideologies between right-wing groups and anti-fascists. But an overwhelming police presence largely kept the peace as the protest rolled on for nearly 8 hours.
Mayor Ted Wheeler, in a press conference held around 6 p.m., said the police did “an exemplary job of de-escalating the situation keeping extremists on both sides separated for the most part.”
Around 4 p.m., police designated the protest a “civil disturbance” after the major altercation of the day. Fistfights broke out in the blocks near Pioneer Courthouse Square between right-wing groups and anti-fascists. But those skirmishes were quickly separated.
Whenever opposing protesters got close to each other, police swooped in and separated them, at one point forming a line around the protesters to not let them pass. Police used force a handful of times, such as when an officer deployed pepper balls.
The protests fizzled out and riot police left the area by 6:30 p.m.
In total, 6 people were treated by medics for minor injuries not caused by officers, according to the PPB. One of the injured protesters was taken to a local hospital.
At the 6 p.m. press conference, Lt. Tina Jones said 13 people were arrested — 11 adults and 2 minors — and they will face various charges. Asked if she knew how many were from right-wing groups and how many were antifa supporters, Jones said PPB “does not categorize those arrested by political affiliation.”
Members of the Proud Boys were seen gathering at the Morrison Bridge around 9 a.m. and began marching south around 10 a.m. Around 10:30 a.m., some Proud Boys held a prayer meeting underneath a US flag as dozens of onlookers and media watched.
Antifa members used familiar chants — “Go home, Nazis!”, “No Trump, No KKK, no Fascist USA”, “Whose streets? Our streets!” — as the right-wing groups, led by the Proud Boys, marched along the waterfront and through the downtown streets.
Police began using loudspeakers to tell the protesters to obey orders to stay off the streets, the first of many times the loudspeakers were used throughout the day.
PPB tweeted, “Officers have seized weapons from multiple groups, including bear spray, shields, and metal and wooden poles.”
In the early afternoon, the right-wing groups split up, and one group — mostly the Proud Boys — made it to the east side of the Willamette River “and marched on Northeast MLK Boulevard,” PPB Lt. Tina Jones said.
One of those on the east side of the Willamette River was Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson — one day removed from being charged with felony riot — who waved an American flag and smiled broadly to his right-wing supporters.
But the bulk of the protesters remained in downtown Portland and began spreading into the city and away from the waterfront by 1 p.m.
Gibson was urged by police to leave the rally at 2:15 p.m. He complied, got into a car and drove away as antifa supporters watched and taunted police.
About that same time, PPB tweeted they “believe demonstrators are using info posted by media & observers to find opposing groups. In an effort to keep the various groups apart and maintain everyone’s safety, we respectfully ask reporters & others to avoid posting specific locations of protest groups.”
Shortly before police labeled this a “civil disturbance,” antifa supporters sat down and blocked streets as right-wing groups approached. Soon, punches were thrown by protesters and police escalated their efforts at crowd control.
It seemed to work.
Around 5 p.m. the number of protesters dramatically dropped as did the tension surrounding the area. By 5:45 p.m., Portland police withdrew from the area as the number of protesters dwindled.
Mayor, chief press conference
Just after 6 p.m., Mayor Ted Wheeler and PPB Chief Danielle Outlaw held a press conference at police headquarters.
Wheeler thanked Outlaw and the entire Portland Police Bureau for handling “a difficult task” and keeping it “largely a peaceful event.”
“They did “an exemplary job of de-escalating the situation keeping extremists on both sides separated for the most part,” he said, noting they planned for “a worst case scenario.”
For the most part, the protesters engaged only in a war of words, and Wheeler re-iterated what he said repeatedly earlier in the week:
“This is our city. This is our home. We do not tolerate violence.”
He also specifically called out Joe Biggs, the Proud Boy who lives in Florida and organized this protest.
Beyond just “misusing public taxpayer resources,” Wheeler said, Biggs is helping to feed “an environment of fear that is national, not just here” in Portland. These events create a sense of uncertainty and fear.
“We do not want him here in our city,” Wheeler said. “Period.”
Outlaw said they went into this event with the same 2 goals they always have: to keep everyone safe and to facilitate everyone’s 1st Amendment right of free speech and assembly.
“Every available officer” was used during the protest, and she was proud “of the level of professionalism” everyone showed.
Then she ran down the details of the protest:
Protesters began arriving around 8:30 a.m. and officers almost immediately began seizing weapons, including chemical spray, bear spray, knives, shields and metal poles.
At its peak there were about 1200 total demonstrators who “gathered, splintered, reformed and moved to different parts of the city.” Controlling the crowd was complicated by geography, the bridges and the purposeful intent of some of the demonstrators.
There were “6 force events by officers,” she said. One officer used pepper balls and the others were take downs. There were 6 minor injuries through the day, none of which were caused by the police.
A 7th person received unrelated attention for a medical issue, she said.
One group of right-wing protesters (that Outlaw did not name) communicated with the PPB Liaison Officers because they said they wanted to leave.
“We allowed them to cross the Hawthorne Bridge,” Outlaw said, “to de-escalate the situation, not to show preference” to one group over another.
The investigation continues and anyone with information is asked to contact PPB at: firstname.lastname@example.org
‘Job well done’
In a departure from previous criticism, the Portland Police Association praised the city’s response to the day’s protests. The police union commended the PPB and the 15 state and federal partner agencies that came to its aid.
“Today’s operation is a blueprint for future protests comprised of simplistic back-to-basics policing that should resonate into the day to day mission of everyday policing in the City of Portland,” wrote Daryl Turner, president of the PPA.
This protest comes about 5 days after the 2nd anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that ended with the death of Heather Heyer at the hands neo-Nazi James Fields, who was sentenced life in prison plus 419 years.
Glossary of Terms
Alt-Right: a right-wing, primarily online political movement or grouping based in the U.S. whose members reject mainstream conservative politics and espouse extremist beliefs and policies typically centered on ideas of white nationalism
Fascism: a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition
neo-Nazi: a member of a group espousing the programs and policies of Hitler’s Nazis
Nazi: a member of a German fascist party controlling Germany from 1933 to 1945 under Adolf Hitler; one who espouses the beliefs and policies of the German Nazis : FASCIST; one who is likened to a German Nazi : a harshly domineering, dictatorial, or intolerant person
Antifa: a person or group actively opposing fascism, an anti-fascist movement