Members of Oregon's congressional delegation appear to be fed up with watching right-wing extremists turn Portland into a battlefield during their frequent rallies. In a letter sent to US Attorney General Merrick Garland on August 30, four Oregon members of Congress urged the country's top prosecutor to investigate criminal activity coordinated by members of the Proud Boys and other right-wing groups in Oregon.
"The principle of freedom of speech does not preclude the Proud Boys and other right-wing extremist groups from espousing hateful, repugnant ideologies," reads the letter, signed by Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and Representatives Suzanne Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer. "However, the Constitution does not provide protection for the criminal behavior that we have seen in Portland such as assault, firearms violations, potential hate crimes, and more—some of which may rise to the level of federal offenses."
It continues: "We respectfully request that the Department of Justice open an investigation into interstate criminal activity and coordination between extremist groups across state lines with the intent to commit acts of violence in connection with recurring violent altercations in Portland."
The letter refers specifically to the August 22 right-wing gathering in Portland, which saw punches thrown by both members of the Proud Boys and counter-protesters, and culminated with a man firing a handgun at a group of antifascist activists downtown. The event conspicuously lacked any intervention from local law enforcement.
"We are grateful that this most recent clash in Portland did not claim any lives, but like many others, we fear that it is only a matter of time before violence in Oregon escalates with deadly consequences unless we take the threat of domestic violent extremism seriously," the letter reads. "We urge the Department to prioritize investigating the networks that exist across state lines to support and operationalize the violent intent of groups such as the Proud Boys and to radicalize and recruit people into their extremist and hateful ideologies."
The lawmakers' urgency stands in contrast to the response offered by Mayor Ted Wheeler after the August 22 clash. Wheeler downplayed the day's violence in a press release published the day after the disruptive demonstration, instead seeming to celebrate the fact that more people weren't injured.
"With strategic planning and oversight, the Portland Police Bureau and I mitigated confrontation between the two events and minimized the impact of the weekend’s events to Portlanders," said Wheeler. "...Violence was contained to the groups of people who chose to engage in violence toward each other."
The letter poses specific questions for Garland to answer, including a request to confirm whether the DOJ is currently investigating "interstate criminal activity... to cause violence" in Oregon. The lawmakers also ask if the DOJ has worked with local law enforcement "to provide guidance for how to appropriately de-escalate tensions if extremist groups and counter-protesters appear to be headed for a violent encounter"—a question that seems to subtly critique Wheeler's response to the recent conflict.
The DOJ has arrested and charged several Proud Boy members in its investigation into the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, which was in part orchestrated by the Proud Boys. Several people who attended the January 6 attack have also been present at Oregon right-wing rallies. The DOJ has not indicated a specific investigation into Oregon's far-right extremist activities.
The letter asks Garland to respond to their questions by September 10.
"We know the significance and deadly impact of domestic violent extremism is not lost on you," the lawmakers write.