Police declared a riot Saturday, June 30 when violent clashes broke out between right-wing group Patriot Prayer and local anti-fascist protesters in the streets of downtown Portland.
The day’s events began in Terry Schrunk Plaza with a permitted rally organized by Patriot Prayer, a Vancouver, Wash.–based protest group led by Joey Gibson, activist and candidate for the United States Senate. Organizers said the demonstration—dubbed the Freedom & Courage Rally—was in response to what they called suppression of free speech by left-wing groups in Portland.
“We’re here to stand up for freedom and to encourage people to start standing up for what they believe in,” high-profile Patriot Prayer member Tusitala “Tiny” Toese said. “Once you say you’re a conservative, everybody looks at you like you’re a terrorist. We’re not going to stand down anymore.”
Toese, a regular participant in alt-right events in Portland since 2017, was arrested before the march began in connection with an alleged assault earlier in June.
As Patriot Prayer ralliers danced and milled around the plaza, blasting classic rock behind a barricade lined with Department of Homeland Security officers, counter-protesters lined up across the street along the south end of Chapman Square. The counter-protesters, dressed mostly in black with many covering their faces, held signs and banners and chanted slogans like “Immigrants are here to say: Nazi punks, not your day,” and “Portland, this is the hour: Immigrant, Black, union power.”
In a public Facebook event, counter-protest organizers affiliated with various local anti-fascist groups, including Eugene Antifa and Rose City Antifa, said the protest was planned in anticipation of violence from Patriot Prayer ralliers following a similar rally on June 3.
“We’re just here to protect everybody,” said counter-protester Evan Duke, an organizer with Occupy Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Wash. “We’re gonna show up and defend the community.”
Police seized weapons including utility knives, clubs and chemical sprays from counter-protesters early in the demonstration, The Oregonian reported.
Following a number of speeches from Patriot Prayer ralliers, including Gibson, the group of almost 150 people exited the police barricade around 5:40 p.m. to begin a march through the streets of downtown.
When the two groups collided on the corner of SW 3rd Ave. and SW Madison St., the floodgates broke loose. Shouting from both sides filled the air as protesters threw eggs, water bottles and firecrackers. Police responded by firing paintballs filled with pepper spray into the crowd.
As marchers moved down SW Madison St. and turned right onto SW 2nd Ave., police announced the march permit had been revoked, warning demonstrators to remain on sidewalks or risk arrest. The two groups remained on opposite sides of the street until protesters on both sides got ahead of the PPB vehicles separating them.
A fresh round of fighting broke out almost immediately when the two groups made contact. At least one counter-protester was severely injured after being beaten with flagpoles carried by Patriot Prayer protesters, Willamette Week reported.
After driving the two groups apart using flash grenades and pepper spray, police declared the event a riot and ordered protesters to vacate the area or face arrest.
Following the order, Patriot Prayer demonstrators returned to Schrunk Plaza as counter-protesters reconvened in Lownsdale and Chapman Squares, where they remained even after police ordered them to leave.
“If you want us to go away, make [Patriot Prayer] go home,” one counter-protester shouted.
Police eventually cleared the area after firing non-lethal projectiles at counter-protesters while surrounding them on three sides.
Following the protest, Patriot Prayer representatives accused counter-protesters of inciting violence. “I want to make it very clear that our people did a very good job of staying on our route [and] then [counter-protesters] charged us,” Gibson wrote in a July 1 Facebook post. “Right now there is no First Amendment in Portland. I understand the criticism that we are too aggressive, but it’s not aggressive to simply march in an American city. If the city officials did their job, there would be no violence because we wouldn’t have to defend ourselves.”
Anti-fascist organizations, in turn, have accused police and city officials of targeting them while protecting Patriot Prayer. On July 1, Rose City Antifa tweeted, “Antifascists, as usual, are facing the brunt of state repression following yesterday’s events.” On the same day, Eugene Antifa tweeted, “Cops protect fascists.”
“Portland Police planned for today’s protest so that people could exercise their First Amendment rights to speech and assembly,” said PPB Deputy Chief Bob Day, quoted in a press release.
In the same press release, PPB reported one officer suffered a non-life-threatening injury when they were struck by a projectile. The officer was taken to the hospital in a patrol vehicle.
PPB reported four people—including Toese—were arrested in connection with investigations unrelated to the day’s events. Charges included assault, theft, robbery and disorderly conduct.