Summer 2018 saw numerous clashes break out in Portland, Oregon, between antifa, or “anti-fascist,” protesters and right-wing activists. The far-right group Patriot Prayer was involved in at least three rallies-turned-skirmishes with far-left counter-protesters. After violence broke out on August 4, 2018, Portland police were accused of using excessive force against those protesting a Patriot Prayer demonstration.
Antifa is a loose network of anti-fascist protesters often associated with far-left movements. Members of Rose City Antifa, based out of Portland and one of the oldest and most organized groups of the antifa network, were among those involved in the clashes, according to the AP.
Patriot Prayer is a far-right group also based in Portland, Oregon. Founded in 2016, it has been involved in many of the area’s recent political riots. The group’s leader, aspiring U.S. Senator Joe Gibson from Washington state, told reporters that the group’s primary goal is to defend “love and freedom,” values to which, he said, liberals are the greatest threat. Though Patriot Prayer is not designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a white supremacist or hate group, its events regularly draw members from right-wing organizations that look to promote Free Speech by eradicating “political correctness.“
Clashes between far-right protesters, often affiliated with Patriot Prayer, and antifa counter-protesters erupted at least three times during the summer of 2018.
The first took place on June 3, when members of Patriot Prayer — joined by members of the white nationalist group Proud Boys, who often participate in Patriot Prayer marches — held a rally in Terry Schrunk Plaza, a park in downtown Portland. The event, according to the SPLC, was advertised as a final farewell for one of the Proud Boys’ most prominent members, who was set to return to his homeland of American Samoa. No clear political message had been outlined for the rally, and no formal speeches planned, as was standard for other Patriot Prayer demonstrations. Instead, Gibson and the departing Proud Boy egged on Patriot Prayer members as they paraded through downtown Portland, antagonizing groups of counter-protestors along the way. According to the Associated Press (AP), videos of the clash went viral in the following days, drawing national attention to Portland. Four people were arrested as a result of the demonstration.
The second incident occurred on June 30, when a permitted Patriot Prayer march quickly erupted into violence, prompting Portland police to intervene. According to NPR, Patriot Prayer members had assembled in downtown parks early that Saturday afternoon. A roughly equal number of antifa protesters gathered nearby to confront them.
In the moments leading up to the march, a row of police, clad in riot-gear, divided the two groups as they hurled insults at each other. Before long, according to NPR, insults escalated into projectiles (rocks, bottles, construction equipment, etc.), forcing police to break rank, cancel the permit, and declare the situation a riot. They used flash bangs and rubber bullets to break up the crowds. Some claim tear gas was also used, but the Portland police deny this. NPR reports that five people, including a patrol officer, were taken to the hospital. One sustained serious, but non-threatening, injuries.
A third encounter occurred on August 4 between far-right demonstrators and antifa counter-protesters. According to the AP, “dozens of the extreme-right protesters were bussed to Portland” from Vancouver, Washington, and gathered in a downtown park. Hundreds of counter-protesters stood across the street, separated by a wall of law enforcement officers. Soon after the Patriot Prayer protest began, individuals surrounded the police cars and began throwing projectiles, including rocks and firework mortars, according to ABC News. The violence led police to announce that the crowds must disperse. Several individuals, including a local reporter, sustained minor injuries, and four people were arrested.
“City officials have struggled with striking a balance between free speech and keeping events from spiraling out of control,” wrote the AP in the wake of the clashes.
Portland police chief reviews use of force
After the August 4 clash, many accused Portland police officers of using excessive force, including stun grenades and rubber bullets. Some also claimed that police especially targeted antifa groups and other counter-protestors, an allegation the Portland Police Bureau denies.
“The intent of law enforcement today was to provide a safe environment for all participants, non-participants, and community members while ensuring the peaceful exercise of the First Amendment,” the police department said in a statement, according to ABC News.
The Oregon chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, along with the Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, called for an official investigation, saying the police “targeted Portland residents peacefully counter-protesting against racist far-right groups,” according to the AP.
David Rogers, the head of Oregon’s branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), expressed similar concerns. “The Portland Police Bureau’s response to protest is completely unacceptable in a free society,” Rogers said in an August 5 statement. “The repeated use of excessive force, and the targeting of demonstrators based on political beliefs are a danger to the First Amendment rights of all people. We call on the Portland Police Bureau, Mayor Wheeler, and Chief Outlaw to immediately end the use of weapons, munitions, and explosives against protesters.”
On August 5, Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw announced the beginning of an investigation to determine if force was used within designated policy guidelines, according to the AP.
Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20
Uploaded September 12, 2018