It’s been nearly one year since the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which left one counter-protester dead and dozens wounded. But while white nationalist Jason Kessler’s attempts to organize a sequel of equal size have largely been a flop, a far-right rally in Portland, Oregon this Saturday has the potential to turn extremely violent.
The rally is the latest in a series of demonstrations organized by the group Patriot Prayer, led by longshot Senate candidate Joey Gibson, who once described himself as a “moderate libertarian.” Patriot Prayer have maintained the rallies are about free-speech and defending freedom in a predominately liberal city. In reality though, the rallies have essentially served as fronts for far-right groups to face off with and goad counter-protesters, often with violent results.
On June 30, a Patriot Prayer rally descended into a riot when Gibson’s supporters started brawling with anti-fascist counter-protesters. Police eventually arrested nine and used non-lethal ammunition against counter-protesters. The far-right Proud Boys were also present, and video circulated in wake of that riot showed one Proud Boy follower dropping an antifa counter-protester with a single punch.
The repeated face-offs have drawn the attention of other far-right factions and figures across the United States. Conspiracy theorist and right-wing radio hose Alex Jones has promised to send reporters to cover the event, and said that he “might even come.”
The violence hasn’t just been confined to pitched street-battles during the events either. On June 16, Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, who is aligned with the Proud Boys and a frequent figure at Portland far-right rallies, allegedly punched a man in the face near an area shopping mall, following a confrontation over pro-Trump slogans. Jeremy Christian, who is awaiting trial for allegedly killing two men in Portland after they tried to stop him racially abusing train commuters last April, was also present at one of Patriot Prayer’s rallies, although the group denied any association.
To make matters worse, Gibson has moved the site of Saturday’s rally to a location which would allow those with a valid Oregon concealed carry permit to bring handguns — although Gibson himself has said he will not be armed. He has maintained however that he will have armed security on buses transporting Patriot Prayer supporters from Vancouver, Washington, where Gibson is based.
In a bizarre twist, Gibson has promised, along with a “select group” of Proud Boys, to disguise himself as antifa and use a Go-Pro camera to document antifa’s alleged “criminal acts.” Whether this will actually happen or not remains to be seen — it seems unlikely Gibson would sacrifice any publicity Patriot Prayer might receive by spending the day disguised among anti-fascists.
— PDX Mike Bivins (@itsmikebivins) August 3, 2018
For their part, antifa members told the Daily Beast they hoped Saturday would mark the last of the clashes. “The general thing we’re looking for on Saturday is a large block of the community to come out and tell these groups that enough is enough,” a representative from Rose City Antifa said. “The violence and threats they’re carrying out against the Portland community need to stop.”
Police will undoubtedly be out in force on Saturday to ensure that there is no repeat of the June 30 violence or, even worse, the violence seen at Charlottesville last year. But the combustible mix means that clashes are a very real possibility.