AP Explains: A look at rallies, recent tension in Portland
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The liberal city of Portland, Oregon, is again expected to be a flashpoint because of a right-wing rally planned Saturday. The out-of-town groups will likely be met by anti-fascist protesters, and the police will be out in force. The city has seen violent protests before.
Here is a look at the planned rallies and the recent tension in Portland.
WHO IS COMING?
The rally is being organized by a member of the Proud Boys, designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Others expected include members of the American Guard, the Three Percenters and the Daily Stormers.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Guard is a white nationalist group, the Three Percenters an anti-government militia and the Daily Stormers a neo-Nazi group. Local anti-fascist protesters — known as antifa — will also likely be there to oppose the right-wing groups. Antifa members, known for wearing masks and black clothing, have participated in violent clashes before.
Another militia-style organization, the Oath Keepers, said in a statement Thursday that it agrees with the goals of the event but is urging members not to attend because the organizers have not done enough to keep white supremacists and neo-Nazis away.
WHY ARE AUTHORITIES WORRIED?
Authorities have their guard up because previous rallies featuring right-wing groups and antifa have turned violent in Portland.
In 2017, two men were fatally stabbed on a light-rail train when they confronted a man who was shouting racist slurs at two young women, one of whom was wearing a Muslim head covering. Less than 10 days after the slayings, an out-of-state right-wing group called Patriot Prayer organized a pro-President Donald Trump rally in Portland that was met with an angry counterprotest. Police arrested 14 people at the event.
In 2018, a similar right-wing rally erupted in dueling protests. Portland police declared a riot and arrested four people.
At a rally in June, masked antifa members beat up conservative blogger Andy Ngo. Video of the 30-second attack attracted widespread attention and put the focus on Portland even more.
Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana introduced a congressional resolution calling for anti-fascists to be declared domestic terrorists, and Trump echoed that theme in a tweet last month.
Portland’s City Hall has been evacuated twice because of bomb threats after the June 29 skirmishes.
WHAT’S THE CITY DOING?
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said people who commit violence or espouse hate are not welcome in the city and massive police presence will be on hand. None of Portland’s nearly 1,000 sworn police officers will have the day off, and more than two dozen other agencies, including the Oregon State Police and the FBI, will help local authorities. Some businesses are closing their doors Saturday, and several weekend events have been canceled.
Authorities have also made a show of arresting a half-dozen people in the past week who are alleged to have committed violence at past rallies, including one on May 1 that ended with a brawl outside a Portland bar. Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson was among those arrested. A former Proud Boys member and four others who associate with far-right groups also were taken into custody.
WHAT IS PORTLAND’S HISTORY WITH EXTREMISM?
Randy Blazak, a leading expert on the history of hate groups in Oregon, said many of today’s anti-fascists trace their activist heritage to a group that fought with neo-Nazis in Portland’s streets decades ago, and they feel this is the same struggle in a new era.
White supremacists killed an Ethiopian man in 1988 in Portland. By the 1990s, Portland was being referred to as “Skinhead City” because it was the home base of Volksfront, one of the most active neo-Nazi groups in the U.S. at the time. As recently as 2007, neo-Nazis attempted to gather in Portland for a three-day festival.
WHAT DO PORTLAND RESIDENTS THINK?
The rallies and counterprotests have frustrated many Portland residents, who feel their city has been co-opted by political forces beyond their control.
While Portland is known as a liberal touchstone with a history of protest, many residents don’t agree with violence from either the far-right or the far-left and would like things to return to normal.
Mayor Wheeler held a large rally in support of Portland and its residents earlier this week that drew dozens of civic leaders, politicians, educators, civil rights groups and unions.
More than a half-dozen events are planned Saturday — including a juggling contest, a Buddhist meditation and a dance party with people wearing giant banana costumes — to thwart potential violence and defuse any problems that could arise.