Tensions between a protest by the right-wing Patriot Prayer group and anti-fascist activists in downtown Portland descended into violence Saturday. The two sides appeared to be itching for a fight from the beginning and in the end Portland Police declared a riot and arrested at least four people.
It all began with a rally at Terry Schrunk Federal Plaza organized by Joey Gibson, a Senate candidate for Washington and leader of Patriot Prayer. The group had been granted a permit for the rally that was met by a large group of antifascist protesters who gathered for a “Defend PDX: Patriot Prayer’s Violence Must End” rally. Police officers seized lots of weapons, including clubs and knives from the anti-fascist group. But apparently it didn’t seize flag poles from the Patriot Prayer protesters, who later used them to beat up the antifascist demonstrators.
The violence began shortly after the Patriot Prayer protesters left the plaza and began their permitted march through Portland. The counterdemonstrators proceeded to throw eggs, water bottles and firecrackers at the marchers. Police then apparently fired paintballs filled with pepper spray at the crowd. Although the situation is far from clear it seems some of the strongest violence began when a flash-bang grenade was lobbed at the right-wing marchers. For a while it seemed as if police were just letting the two sides go at it before breaking up the clashes.
Gibson told local CBS affiliate KOIN the clashes were “good in terms that we showed that there’s a political move right now to have the police stand down in order to impact free speech in some of these big cities.”
Both sides were relatively tiny compared to the demonstration that took place earlier in the day to protest against the White House’s immigration policy. The Patriot Prayer rally included some 150 people while the counter-protesters allegedly had twice that number.