As Portland braced Saturday for possible violent clashes Saturday between far-right and far-left activists, President Donald Trump threw a spotlight on the tense confrontation by tweeting that the city is “being watched very closely” and that he hopes the mayor will “do his job.”
Mayor Ted Wheeler and Chief Danielle Outlaw have vowed to use the full force of the law against anyone committing acts of violence or vandalism and ordered that none of the nearly 1,000 sworn police officers would have the day off.
More than two dozen other agencies, including the Oregon State Police and the FBI, will help local authorities.
The city’s concern was that a far-right rally dubbed “End Domestic Terrorism” could turn into a slugfest after a militant, far-left antifa, or anti-fascist, group vowed to confront the rallygoers they described as “invaders.”
In his tweet, Trump echoed the event’s them by noting that “major consideration” is being given to declaring the militant leftist group “antifa” as a terrorist organization.
On the other side, Rose City Antifa, whose activists normally wear masks to remain anonymous, have also said the goal of the far-right was to have antifa declared a domestic terrorist organization.
In Washington, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana have introduced a congressional resolution calling for anti-fascists to be declared domestic terrorists, a move Trump earlier echoed in a tweet.
The event, which had not been given a permit, is organized by former InfoWars staffer Joe Biggs and supported by Enrique Tarrio, national head of the Proud Boys, an all-male, far-right group that describes itself as “Western chauvinists.”
Some key bridges and roads were closed or blocked off and the city erected a half-mile of concrete barriers along the streets near the waterfront rally area.
Several Starbucks stores closed down for the day after posting signs saying they were shutting down at the “strong encouragement” of police and for the safety of customers. Numerous department stores, computer shops, and other outlets also planned to shutter their doors for the day.
Josh Johnston, owner of Paddy’s Bar and Grill, told KPTV that his staff was bringing in the patio furniture that demonstrators in the past had thrown in the street.
“I think it’s unfortunate that people are becoming so polarized and you know the two extreme sides, there just seems to be so much anger that it’s escalating,” he said.
In addition to the Proud Boys, the white nationalist American Guard and the Three Percenters, a far-right militia, have said they will have members in Portland.
Hate group watchdogs say the Daily Stormers, a neo-Nazi group, are also expected.
The Oath Keepers, another far-right militia group, said in a statement they were pulling out of the rally because organizers have not done enough to keep white supremacist groups away.
Patriot Prayer’s Joey Gibson, who is not involved in this weekend’s event but organized similar rallies in the past two years that ended in clashes, turned himself in to police Friday on an arrest warrant for felony rioting. He was at a confrontation that broke out on May 1 outside a bar where members of the antifa movement had gathered after a May Day demonstration.
In a video he livestreamed on Facebook, Gibson accused the police of playing politics by arresting him but not the masked demonstrators who beat up conservative blogger Andy Ngo at a June 29 rally that drew national attention to this small, liberal city.
Ngo has not indicated whether he would attend Saturday’s rally, but said on Fox News’s “The Ingraham Angle” this week that “the whole thing is a powder keg.”
A video of the attack on Ngo led the Proud Boys, who have been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, to organize Saturday’s event.
“What I’m saying to everybody who’s listening to this (is) they’re trying to shut you guys up. They want you to not show up in Portland, they want to put fear in your hearts,” Gibson said.
Why Portland? It is viewed by many as an outpost of West Coast liberalism that has been particularly tolerant of free public expression in the past. Some critics argue that the police have not taken tough enough measures to head off clashes.
The presence of Rose City Antifa, one of the country’s oldest antifa group, has also been a lure for far-right groups.
“I think they come to Portland because it gives them a platform,” says Wheeler, the mayor, according to The Oregonian. “They know that if they come here conflict is almost guaranteed.”
Portland’s feared confrontation Saturday is only the latest in a string of political skirmishes downtown. In June, three people were arrested as protesters and counter-protesters battled during random marches that followed two separate demonstrations.
The exchanges also deteriorated into attacks on police, with some antifa protesters throwing eggs and liquids at police officers, who responded with pepper spray near the Pioneer Courthouse Square.
Crowds eventually dispersed after police declared the gathering a civil disturbance and unlawful assembly.
Three people were treated for injuries at local hospitals, including Andy Ngo, a conservative writer who, The Oregonian reports, appeared to be attacked by antifa forces.
The June rally came almost a year after masked antifa forces threw eggs, water bottles and firecrackers at a march by the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, prompting police to declare a riot and revoke the march permit. Officers also seized knives, clubs and chemical spray from antifa supporters.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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