Police say a right-wing rally and counter-protests in Portland, Oregon, have largely dispersed without serious violence Saturday, though they are investigating an assault after one person who was documenting the event was pushed to the ground and kicked in the face.
Separately, police said a criminal citation was issued after officials confiscated firearms, paintball guns, baseball bats and shields from a pick-up truck that was initially stopped for having obscured license plates as it left the rally.
Several hundred people, dozens of them wearing militarized body armor, gathered to support President Donald Trump and his “law and order” reelection campaign Saturday afternoon. The attendance was far fewer than the 10,000 organizers had expected after tensions boiled over nationwide following the decision not to charge officers in Louisville, Kentucky, for killing Breonna Taylor.
Organized by the Proud Boys, a group that has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the rally was described as a free speech event to support Trump and police and condemn anti-fascists, “domestic terrorism” and “violent gangs of rioting felons” in the streets.
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Local and state elected officials forcefully condemned the event and rushed to shore up law enforcement ranks as left-wing groups organized several rallies to oppose the Proud Boys’ message. About 1,000 counter-protesters gathered at another park.
The events began at noon and were largely dispersed by 3 p.m. The Oregon Department of Transportation shut down the interstate highway for a brief time to help control the crowd and flow of traffic.
“The purpose of this closure was to clear some people out of the area who wanted to leave and to keep competing groups separate,” said Chris Liedle, a spokesman with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, in updates posted on Twitter, as the city had braced for the threat of violence with multiple rallies in the area.
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Police also said they arrested three people, including a man suspected of driving under the influence and a woman for an outstanding arrest warrant, Liedle said.
Dozens began to show up two hours before the right-wing rally, some packed into the beds of pickup trucks. Many were wearing militarized body armor, including helmets and protective vests. Many flew American flags or black flags bearing the logo of the Three Percenters, another far-right group and some wore Make America Great Again hats.
TJ Detweiler, who works in construction and plumbing, said at the rally that he wanted to end domestic terrorism in the U.S.
“I would like to see people stop the looting and rioting and enjoy the country for what rights we have,” Detweiler said.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Friday said she was sending state troopers to help the Portland police and was creating a unified command structure among city, regional and state law enforcement — a tactic that essentially circumvents a city ban on the use of tear gas as a crowd-control measure. The state police said a “massive influx” of troopers would be in Portland by Saturday morning.
“This is a critical moment. We have seen what happens when armed vigilantes take matters into their own hands. We’ve seen it in Charlottesville, we’ve seen it in Kenosha and, unfortunately, we have seen it in Portland,” she said, referencing deaths in Virginia, Wisconsin and Oregon during clashes between those on the right and left of the political spectrum.
“The Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer groups have come time and time again looking for a fight, and the results are always tragic," said Brown, a Democrat. “Let me be perfectly clear, we will not tolerate any type of violence this weekend.”
The Proud Boys are self-described “Western chauvinists.” They have held multiple events in Portland since Trump's election alongside other right-wing groups such as Patriot Prayer that often end in violent clashes with left-wing counter-demonstrators.
Last month, Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a Trump supporter and Patriot Prayer follower, was shot and killed after vehicles in a pro-Trump car caravan diverted into downtown Portland and crossed paths with left-wing activists. The suspect in the shooting, a self-described anti-fascist, was killed the following week by law enforcement as they tried to arrest him in Washington state.
The Proud Boys mentioned Danielson in their permit application, as well as Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged in the shooting deaths of two Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Some attending Saturday's rally carried signs that said “Free Kyle Now.”
Rittenhouse's attorneys have said he was acting in self-defense. The Proud Boys raised the specter of a vigilante response to the actions of a “mob” in a permit application filed with the city this week.
“Portland leadership is unwilling to stop the violence," the Proud Boys wrote in the application. "They have been blinded by their hatred of our President and will not allow outside help stopping the violence.”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said the city and its police force did not need or want help from “paramilitaries or vigilante groups.”
Police leadership canceled all scheduled days off for officers Saturday and were primarily focused on keeping dueling groups of protesters separated.
Deputy Chief Chris Davis acknowledged that Oregon is an open-carry state for firearms. But on Friday, he reminded those attending the rally and counter-demonstrations that under Portland law, it's illegal to carry a loaded firearm in public without an Oregon concealed handgun permit.
“We ask that you come peacefully and engage in your free speech peacefully,” Police Chief Chuck Lovell said Friday. “It’s OK for us to disagree about things. But at the end of the day, doing so peacefully, letting people exercise their rights safely is very important. So that’s my ask the folks who are attending.”
The rally came as Portland approached its fifth month of almost nightly protests against racial injustice and police brutality.
Demonstrators want the city to take millions from the police budget and reallocate it to support the Black community. Some also are angry with the mayor — who is also the police commissioner — for allowing police to use tear gas until recently and for what they call overly aggressive police tactics. Wheeler has also refused to cede control of the police bureau to a Black city councilwoman with a decades-long resume of activism around police reform.
Ho reported from Seattle. Associated Press reporter Sara Cline in Salem, Oregon, contributed to this report.
Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus