Portland’s latest collision between Joey Gibson’s crew of free speech marchers and anti-fascist counter-protesters on Friday, June 30 ended right back where it began. Despite several skirmishes and three scorched American flags, police officers neither intervened nor monitored the march on Portland’s southwest waterfront, which seemed to draw little attention from the 2017 Waterfront Blues Festival crowd.
Gibson’s unpermitted “Freedom March,” which attracted a far smaller crowd than his pro-Trump rally in Terry Schrunk Plaza on June 4, gathered at around 4:30 p.m. at the Salmon Street fountains across from a counter-protest coordinated by Rose City Antifa. Gibson was accompanied by the right-wing Warriors for Freedom bicycle gang, including its most popular member Tusitala “Tiny” Toese.
Early antifa gatherers said they were there to oppose hate speech and white supremacy.
White supremacists at last Trump rally
Before Gibson’s June 4 Portland Trump rally, he posted on Facebook that white supremacist groups including, in his words, Identity Evropa, would not be allowed at his event. Identity Evropa’s Oregon coordinator, Jake Von Ott, did, however, show up with at least 40 other IE members.
After speaking as a special guest at the rally, alt-right celebrity Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet livestreamed a conversation with Von Ott, in which Gionet asked Von Ott to recite the “14 words,” a white power phrase derived from Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf. The 14 words advocate for “securing the future” of the white race.
Gibson, who said he was aware of Von Ott and Gionet’s conversation, insisted that Von Ott was kicked out of the Trump rally. Von Ott contended this to the Vanguard. “There are some things that were said after [the Trump rally] that were concerning and we’re looking into it,” Gibson said. “Obviously, I’m going to make a million mistakes.”
Skinhead joins Patriot Prayer group
One hour before Friday’s march commenced, Gibson’s group attracted a crowd of journalists as he confronted a man with a skinhead tattoo on his forearm who had requested to march. Raul Gonzales, who said he considers himself “a very tan” white person, identifies as a skinhead but not a neo-Nazi.
Portland has a violent history as “the skinhead capital of the country” in the 1990s. Jeremy Christian’s deadly MAX light rail stabbings in May have been compared to racist violence perpetrated by white supremacist groups in Portland’s recent past and have been a cause for fear about right-wing groups demonstrating in Portland.
Gonzales argued with Gibson that he had come to see a “different side to skinheads” and that he wanted to participate in the march to support Gibson’s free speech cause.
“If you supported us you would not be here,” Gibson said, “because you give us a bad name.”
A friend accompanying Gonzales argued, “[Antifa is] going to call you a Nazi anyway.”
Gibson added that because the march was unpermitted, he had no way of kicking Gonzales out.
Warriors for Freedom member John Beavers said Gibson had been communicating with Rose City Antifa prior to the march to identify Gonzales so they could ask him to leave if he showed up. The Vanguard could not find an RCA organizer that could verify this, but one antifa-side marcher said he had come solely to “defend” his side from Gonzales.
Police make first and last appearance as march begins
Twenty minutes before the march was set to begin, two Portland Police officers told Gibson they would not be monitoring the march but would help if “anything happened.” PPB did not approach the antifa organizers, nor could they be seen anywhere near the waterfront for the three hours organizers occupied the waterfront and Salmon Street fountains.
By 6 p.m., both sides of the crowd began to meld. Another identifiable group, the “Western chauvinist” Proud Boys had arrived in gold-bordered black polo shirts branded by British tennis champion Fred Perry. The Proud Boys tout “anti-white guilt” and commit to a lifestyle without masturbation and “venerating housewives.”
Just before Gibson commanded his group to begin marching, a provocateur in a sun-faded purple polo shirt charged from the antifa side and shouted, “Fuck you! Fuck Trump!” at the right-wingers and gave them the middle finger. The provocateur did not offer his name.
Gibson-side challengers made fun of their opponent, asking if they had Tourette’s Syndrome. This started an explosion of shouting from both sides, ending with a standoff between a masked RCA leader and Toese. The two argued about ideology with their sides surrounding them, then agreed to start marching.
As the march cascaded north on the waterfront, WFF kept the groups separated, but antifa gained ground quickly. In the following hour and a half, several brawls ensued. At one point, an antifa member was dragged on the grass and kicked by Proud Boys and other right-wingers.
Brawls go up in (marijuana) smoke
A red-in-the-face right-wing marcher in splotched painter’s clothing screamed insults at a woman banging a makeshift drum with an anarchy symbol on it. They were then involved in or held back from several subsequent brawls.
Gibson stopped for three impromptu speeches along the seemingly made-up route, but eventually his megaphoned words were drowned out by arguments from both sides, about everything from immigration to white supremacy to medicaid. Gibson donned his own bicycle helmet and put the megaphone away as the crowd densified.
Antifa burned holes in one American flag and set two more miniature flags on fire. Toese ran a confiscated antifascist flag between his legs before he handed it back to the other side. A blue smoke bomb, quickly stamped out, flew from an antifa-side marcher.
An in-betweener named Kyle Broussard confiscated a pepper spray canister from an antifa-side marcher. “Don’t do this shit,” Broussard commanded, apparently addressing both sides.
Broussard, who said he shaves his head due to alopecia, calls himself “the Virtuous Skinhead” because, he claimed, he is so often misidentified as a white supremacist for his appearance. After several brawls occurred and one more threatened to erupt, Broussard accepted a marijuana joint from a Warriors for Freedom member and offered it to antifa.
Broussard stood between several more heated arguments, at one point telling a woman with an anarchist drum and a Proud Boy that both were “technically right” during an argument about taxes. Broussard maintained a bright smile and flushed cheeks throughout the march, and interacted openly with the press.
Broussard—a libertarian, student at the University of Washington in Seattle, and a Marine Corps veteran—said he normally attends protests in Seattle but came to Portland because he “had the day off.” Broussard claimed he wants to bring “peace and dialogue” to these events.
Though Broussard claimed a neutral stance, Broussard’s Twitter banner is a Kekistan flag, a play on the Nazi flag that originated in a 4chan forum often associated with the alt-right movement. Broussard runs a weekly livestream channel on YouTube with some of his friends. In his latest episode, Broussard called antifa protesters at Evergreen State College “degenerates.”
Hoarse voices, tensions fizzled
The march turned back north on southwest 1st Avenue, briefly blocking MAX train tracks, where the purple-shirted provocateur wagged his middle finger in the face of WFF’s president. A black-masked marcher pulled them aside as the rest of the crowd crossed the street and praised them for not becoming violent.
The march ended up back at the Salmon Street fountains, where arguments continued in tight crowds for another hour. Proud Boys stepped away for cigarettes while antifa marchers wiped sweat from their faces with bandanas. Toese and Gibson leaned back on a park bench.
Portland Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment about why they did not stick around for the march. A masked antifa marcher seen often at the front of the crowd said they thought it was better that the police did not interfere.
“Everybody spoke their piece,” the marcher said. “The police are busy. They have other stuff to do.”
Several observers and marchers said they were surprised at the lack of police presence. Willamette Week reported that Multnomah County Republicans voted to use right-wing paramilitary groups Oath Keepers and Three Percenters as approved private security for similar political events in the future, because they have “no money” to protect Gibson’s group from antifa threats. An Oath Keepers member was seen on June 4 helping a federal agent making an arrest outside Gibson’s Trump rally.
This week, Portland Resistance founder Gregory McKelvey met with the offices of Police Chief Mike Marshman, City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler about the organization’s policy reform recommendations, which include police behavior at protests.
Portland Police Bureau has recently met resistance from the American Civil Liberties Union and Ted Wheeler for its use of riot gear and less-than-fatal crowd dispersion tools. Marshman defended PPB’s tactics following the June 4 rallies. McKelvey has recommended less use of force and an end to “broken windows” policing.
McKelvey said the meeting only lasted one hour and more are planned to be scheduled in the future. “It’s good to have these discussions so that we can begin to understand each other,” McKelvey said, “but we still have a long way to go.”
As for Friday night, the antifa marcher surveyed the crowd and with a tired voice and reflected “what’s really happening right now, this second, is a bunch of conversation. Everybody’s talking to each other like normal people.”
The marcher denied that these “normal people” conversations necessarily change their mind about Gibson’s crew, however. “It’s my responsibility to come and oppose hatred like I see coming off of this group,” the marcher added.
The Freedom March was Gibson’s last public appearance, according to the Facebook event page, until August.