‘Alt-right’ Portland rally sees skirmishes with counter-protesters

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Far-right and anti-fascist groups face off with each other and law enforcement, a little over a week after two men died in a racially charged stabbing

A much-anticipated alt-right rally in Portland, Oregon has ended in police using stun grenades and tear gas against the most militant segment of a counter-protest.

At 3.30pm, police began pushing antifascist or antifa activists out of Chapman Square, just across from the rally in Terry Schrunk Plaza, in downtown Portland. Officers discharged grenades and gas as missiles were thrown. Portland police said on Twitter that they had closed the park due to criminal behavior including the use of bricks, mortar and other projectiles.

As the antifascists were pushed out, alt-right activists interrupted their schedule of speakers to rush to the edge of Schrunk Plaza and taunt them. Police said they had confiscated makeshift weapons and shields from protesters in Chapman Square, and said that at around 2pm protesters there launched marbles and other projectiles towards Schrunk Plaza.

Hours before, as the opposing activists gathered, tensions in the city were high, a little over a week after two men were killed and one wounded in a stabbing on city transportation.

Jeremy Christian, 35, was charged in the attack, in which Rick Best, 53, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, 23, were killed after they intervened to help two young women who were the target of racial abuse. Christian was found to have expressed far-right views and to have attended a similar free speech rally in the city in April.

Pro-Trump
Pro-Trump demonstrators in Portland, Oregon. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Portland mayor Ted Wheeler sought to block Sundays event, while on Saturday the leader of the Oath Keepers militia organisation told the Guardian members of his group were on their way to the city, to support and if necessary defend the rightwing protesters.

In the event, the alt-right rally was surrounded on three sides by separate counter-protests. Antifa activists occupied Chapman Square, to the south of the plaza. Portland United Against Hate, organized by 70 community and political groups, occupied the forecourt and sidewalk outside City Hall to the west. To the east, a protest organized by labor groups occupied the street outside a federal building.

At the City Hall rally, Seemab Hussein of the Oregon Council on Islamic Relations, a rally sponsor, said he wasnt surprised to see an alt-right gathering in the city.

Its part of Portland, he said, its part of Oregon, its part of society. He added that he didnt take seriously disavowals of the racist politics of older far-right movements.

Antifa
These guys are mostly not interested in free speech, theyre interested in fighting us, said an antifa activist. Photograph: Jason Wilson for the Guardian

I dont think they actually moved away from that, he said. Its the same ball of yarn the hate, the prejudice, the violence. It just finds a new victim. If its not Muslims, its immigrants. He was heartened, he said, to see so many Portlanders show up to oppose the rally.

All told, there were some 3,000 counter-protesters and only a few hundred at the free speech rally, where Kyle Based Stickman Chapman, who became a movement hero after physically attacking antifascists in Berkeley, California addressed the crowd. So did Joey Gibson, the organizer of the event. On the fringes, Pat Based Spartan Washington, a so-called alt-right celebrity, held an impromptu press conference.

I believe in freedom of speech, he said. Our speakers have a right to say what they want, and not be exposed to this shit across the street. I am definitely willing to use violence to make sure my family is safe and my patriot family is safe. But do I want it? Not necessarily. Until antifa learns not to use violence God, I hate them. I look over there and I just want to smash.

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Pat Washington, an alt-right supporter, in Portland. Photograph: Jason Wilson/the Guardian

Members of the Oath Keepers and another patriot militia group, the Three Percenters, were present, identifiable by their insignia. Also present were members of the Proud Boys, associated with Vice founder Gavin McInnes and identifiable by their uniform Fred Perry T-shirts, and members of Warriors for Freedom, a group led by Gibson.

Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes gave a late afternoon speech, referring to growing links between established rightwing groups and internet subcultures.

We just went to Boston not too long ago, Rhodes said, and it was run by 4chan kids who put the rally on. They were standing there with pale skin, cos they dont go outside too much, but they had homemade shields in their hands and they were there. Its my job as a paratrooper veteran to teach those kids everything I know.

Tusitala Tiny Toese, a member of Warriors for Freedom, told the Guardian he was present to stand for free speech.

If you look all around America, he said, theyre trying to take away free speech silently. He also said that the group had ejected Jeremy Christian from the 29 April Portland rally. We heard what he was doing, he said, we heard he was doing [Nazi] salutes, and we said we dont like that, so we told him, you gotta leave.

Earlier in the day, as protesters gathered, two members of the Rose City Antifa group, wearing masks, spoke to the Guardian. Weve got hopes for what we want to happen and were preparing for the worst, one said, adding that their goals were being here, being a visible opposition.

These guys are mostly not interested in free speech, theyre interested in fighting us, the activist said. If they come over here, were going to respond in self-defense, but our plan is not to take that path. Our main goal is the defense of the community, and to reveal their actions for what they are: fascist street violence.

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An activist makes a far-right hand signal. Photograph: Jason Wilson for the Guardian

At one point Brian Fife, an alt-right protester, walked up to Chapman Square in an attempt to speak. He was surrounded and drowned out with air horns. Earlier, on the grass at Schrunk Plaza, Fife, who said he ran a small business in Salem, Oregon, said Jeremy Christian did everything right up until the point he started killing people.

I do not support killing people, he said, I dont think anyone does. But calling out the changing elements of our culture, I think thats something I wish more of us would do.

As police and DHS officers dressed in riot gear kept the groups apart, the rally passed without full-blooded confrontation between protesters. Police also announced that any movement between Chapman Square and Schrunk Plaza would be considered a criminal act. The plaza was cordoned off with yellow tape and police SUVs partially blocked traffic. Before the decision to clear Chapman Square, a small number of arrests were made.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/04/portland-oregon-alt-right-rally-antifa