Doug Brown

The portland area was again one of the country’s main hubs for political turmoil on Sunday.

Local demonstrations caught national heat for a day that included both a Trump supporter nearly plowing through protesters with his American and Confederate flag-adorned pickup truck, and the president’s large adult son taking to Twitter to rail against Portland antifascists, whom he accused of starting a riot.

Patriot Prayer—the Southwest Washington far-right group led by activist Joey Gibson, whose “free speech” rallies attract white supremacists, white nationalists, bigoted street preachers, and regular Republicans—has a knack for stirring up opposition. This weekend was no exception.

Sunday marked the first local Patriot Prayer event since a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a 20-year-old racist rammed his car into a crowd of protesters, killing one and injuring many. It was also the group’s first local rally since Gibson and a few other far-right demonstrators were assaulted during a rally in Berkeley, California, a clash that resulted in greater demonization of the anti-fascist, or “antifa,” movement in right-wing circles and the media in general.

Sunday’s event came with dark foreshadowing. A bigoted street preacher and Patriot Prayer supporter wrote on Facebook that rallies “will inevitably have bloodshed” and “Peace has never been an option.”

Things didn’t turn out quite so grimly.

Around noon on Sunday, hundreds of protesters headed to the waterfront to confront and jeer at Patriot Prayer supporters. Only about a dozen of the right-wing activists showed up—the night before, Gibson decided not to rally in Portland and instead moved it to his home base of Vancouver. He made a similar move last month in the Bay Area, cancelling a rally in San Francisco at the last minute before heading across the bay to Berkeley.

The Patriot Prayer supporters were escorted by police officers in riot gear to a fenced-in area on the waterfront surrounded by dozens of other police officers trying to keep protesters out. A few antifa members pushed down a gate and briefly clashed with officers there.

Police and protesters clashed elsewhere downtown, too, with cops arresting seven people, pepper-spraying many more, and setting off a less-lethal grenade during a chaotic incident at Lownsdale Square. Some black-clad protesters set off smoke canisters and threw objects at the police. 

It all got the attention of Donald Trump Jr., who quoted a Portland Police Bureau tweet (“Antifa is throwing irritant smoke and projectiles at police”) and wrote, “Goes without saying that irritant smoke & projectiles being hurled at police by Antifa are projectiles of peace, tolerance & acceptance.” A short while later, Trump Jr. wrote: “Amazing watching police & first responders from all over the US volunteer in FL & TX, but Antifa uses it as a chance to riot in Portland?!?” 

After the chaos downtown, many protesters and law enforcement officers headed north to the main Patriot Prayer rally at the Vancouver Landing Amphitheater. Lines of riot cops held back a couple hundred protesters from the dozens of right-wingers in attendance.

Trouble broke out in downtown Vancouver. After the rally was finished, and about 20 minutes before Trump Jr. sent his first tweet, a Patriot Prayer supporter with a Confederate flag tattoo and a Confederate flag on his massive pickup truck (which had Oregon plates) nearly plowed into protesters and other drivers as he sped toward opposing traffic and through a red light.

The man, identified online as Billy Wilson, had been circling protesters downtown. Stopped behind cars at a red light, a few protesters began throwing objects at his truck as they approached. Wilson quickly pulled into the opposing lane, floored it, and zoomed through the stop light. An unmarked police car pulled him over immediately and cuffed him, but soon let him go with no charges or ticket.

Lt. Kathy McNicholas of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) explained: “The preliminary information I’ve gotten is that he was in fear and was trying to leave the area because he was under attack—people surrounding the truck, damaging and throwing things.” 

McNicholas says VPD officers let him go following the incident, but they’re passing on their reports to prosecutors, who will determine whether he’ll face charges.