As the far-right Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys groups marched in the streets for an event dubbed Freedom March, hundreds of police in riot gear rushed the counter-protesters, firing flash bangs and projectiles with pepper spray.
More than 1,000 counter-protesters took to the streets, outnumbering an estimated 400 far-right rally participants, according to local media reports.
Officers have continued to seize items that can be used as weapons throughout today’s protests. pic.twitter.com/s5QsyxuKrI
— Portland Police (@PortlandPolice) August 4, 2018
The chaotic clashes that took place during recent far-right rallies in the city by placing the heavily armoured officers between the opposing sides. At least four people were arrested during the fracas, the Portland Police Bureau wrote on Twitter.
The police declared a “civil disturbance” and claimed they spotted weapons among the counter-protesters, a charge the latter rejected, the local Oregonian news outlet reported.
Numerous times today cops claimed to be trying to disperse the anti-fascist crowd because “we saw some weapons” but the whole time they knew the other side actually had weapons and even “cut a deal with them” so they wouldn’t be searched (as promised).https://t.co/2jN0OHuuON
— Portland DSA (@PortlandDSA) August 4, 2018
Left-wing and anti-fascist groups decried the police response as heavy-handed, accusing the officers of almost exclusively targeting the counter-demonstrators.
At least one woman was hospitalised after sustaining injuries from a flash bang fired by officers, the local Willamette Weekly reported.
Among the groups rallying against the far-right event were the local chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, Popular Mobilization (“Pop Mob”) and a slew of anti-fascist organisations.
Joey Gibson, leader of Patriot Prayer and a candidate for US Senate in neighbouring Washington state, organised the Freedom March, which brought a variety of far-right demonstrators and groups from out of state.
The far-right participants showed up in helmets and body armour. One demonstrator, a member of Patriot Prayer, wore a T-shirt declaring “Pinochet did nothing wrong”, a reference to the Chilean dictator who killed thousands of political opponents.
The mayhem in Portland comes on the heels of several far-right rallies that descended into violence in recent months.
On June 30, Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys, a self-described “western chauvinist” men’s club, attacked counter-demonstrators in the streets, punching them and using flagpoles as weapons.
On June 4, Patriot Prayer and other groups clashed with anti-fascists in the city.
The spate of violence prompted watchdogs and activists to worry that Saturday’s rally could be “another Charlottesville”, referring to the August 12, 2017, white supremacist protest.
During that rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was called “Unite the Right”, far-right groups clashed with anti-fascists, anti-racist activists and community members. The day ended with a demonstrator crashing his car into a crowd and killing 32-year-old anti-racist activist Heather Heyer.
Leading up to Saturday’s event, Gibson spoke widely about bringing firearms.
In a Facebook video posted on June 30, he said: “We’ve always had guns at the rally … Everyone should be carrying around guns at all times.”
Speaking to Alex Jones, host of the conspiracy theory website Infowars, Gibson reiterated his claim earlier this week: “We’ve always had guns at every single rally that we have; we just don’t pull them out.”
Media reports suggest that police did not carry out weapons searches on the far-right protesters.
In the past, white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis have participated in Patriot Prayer’s events.
On August 12, the one-year anniversary of the deadly Charlottesville protest, far-right groups plan to hold “Unite the Right 2” in Washington, DC.
Hundreds of people – among them Black Lives Matter activists, anti-fascists, anarchists and leftists – are expected to hold a counter-demonstration.