By now, you may have heard: The Proud Boys, a national far-right organization rooted in white nationalism and male chauvinism, is visiting Portland this weekend.
The group has planned a noon rally at Delta Park, where attendees from across the country plan to "take back" Portland from the grips of several villains, including (but not limited to) Black Lives Matter protesters, antifascist activists, Mayor Ted Wheeler, and District Attorney Mike Schmidt.
The dramatic rhetoric surrounding this rally comes straight from Tucker Carlson's soundbites, with organizers accusing Wheeler of allowing "domestic terrorists" to besiege his city. In a press release, the Proud Boys said they were protesting on behalf of Aaron Danielson, the man who was shot and killed during a pro-Trump rally in Portland, along with other "victims" of Wheeler's leadership, including Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who fatally shot two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The press statement goes on to suggest that the two police officers shot in Louisville during a Wednesday protest were "emboldened by Wheeler's inaction in Portland."
While the group says they intend on having a "peaceful" demonstration, it's clear they're preparing for a fight.
"If domestic terrorist groups confront the peaceful protest, Proud Boys will defend themselves in a legal and lawful manner," reads the press release. "Several participants will be solely dedicated to gathering as much footage of these anarchists and turning it over to law enforcement for their swift arrest."
Private messages between far-right activists obtained by the Guardian and Bellingcat notes that attendees should be "willing to fight."
Right-wing activists regularly bring firearms to Portland protests—legally and otherwise. Firearms are banned from city spaces like Delta Park, unless a person has an Oregon concealed carry permit.
The location of this rally is notable: North Portland's Delta Park sits on land formerly occupied by the city of Vanport, a community that accepted Black residents displaced by Portland's racist housing policies in the 1940s. A flood in 1948 wiped Vanport off the map, again displacing thousands of Black residents. The idea of white nationalists gathering in an area haunted by the region's racist past feels intentional to antiracist activists.
A group of counter-demonstrators have announced plans to meet at 11:30 am Saturday at a historical marker across the interstate from Delta Park.
Another organized response to the Proud Boys' rally is scheduled for noon on Saturday at Peninsula Park, just three miles south of Delta Park. This event—hosted by Pop Mob, Portland DSA, and Rose City Antifa—has been billed as a "day of community," where visitors can participate in art projects, learn about local activism work, and hear from "everyday antifascists."
Over the past four months, Portland has seen demonstrations that largely pit racial justice protesters against law enforcement. Yet Saturday's events—which pull far-right activists into the mix—are a familiar dynamic in Portland. Since the 2016 election, far-right groups (whether its Vancouver-based Patriot Prayer or the Proud Boys) have used Portland as a destination for right-wing protests (whether it's in favor of men accused of sexual assault or a so-called "freedom march"). These rallies are usually met by counter-demonstrations organized by local left-wing groups. The clashes regularly end in serious injuries, numerous arrests, and concerns around Portland police officers appearing to play favorites with the right-wing activists.
The last time the Proud Boys organized a protest in Portland, in August 2019, Portland police offered the group a safe route away from groups of counter-protesters by escorting them across the Hawthorne Bridge. While Mayor Ted Wheeler and the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) declared that decision a success, many Portlanders saw police giving white supremacists what appeared to be special treatment.
This perceived bias in PPB's protest response came up again last month, when a right-wing rally in downtown Portland turned into a violent brawl against counter-protesters—and PPB declined to intervene. Officers stood by as at least one known member of the Proud Boys pointed a loaded firearm at a group of people, and as people from both groups threw punches. According to PPB Chief Chuck Lovell, this inaction was solely a numbers issue. With only 30 officers assigned to work that protest, PPB wasn't able to safely intervene, Lovell said.
Leading up to this protest, it wasn't clear if PPB's response would be any different. Earlier this week, both Oregon State Police (OSP) and Multnomah County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) declined PPB' request to assist Portland police in controlling the expected crowds at Saturday's protests. Both cited Wheeler's recent decision to restrict officers from using CS gas (a commonly used variety of tear gas) to control crowds as their reason. At a Thursday press conference, PPB Deputy Chief Chris Davis wouldn't say how many officers will be reserved to respond to the Delta Park rally.
"But we anticipate having a large number of our officers there," Davis said. Davis added that while Portland Parks and Recreation had rejected the Proud Boys' permit to protest at Delta Park, PPB could not keep them from holding a constitutionally-protected demonstration.
That wasn't enough of a commitment for Governor Kate Brown. On Friday, Brown announced that OSP and MCSO will have jurisdiction over Portland this weekend, with PPB following their command. Because of that restructuring, all three law enforcement agencies will be allowed to use CS gas against crowds of people. According to OSP Superintendent Travis Hampton, a "mass influx" of law enforcement will be "saturating North Portland" starting Saturday morning.
It appears use of force is the only tool the state and local governments are counting on to keep a designated hate group with a history of violent confrontations from acting out in Portland. And if history shows us anything, that use of force may be disproportionally focused on counter-protest groups.
Sarah Iannarone, who is running against Wheeler in the November mayor's race, demanded further action in a Friday press release. She urged Wheeler to open city buildings to Portlanders seeking to escape the weekend violence, and have PPB equally enforce laws against right-wing and antifascist protesters, among other recommendations.
"There are actions that should have been taken long ago to prevent the moment we find ourselves in," Iannarone said. "Yet, here we are. I demand Portland’s current mayor do his part to keep our people safe by whatever legal means possible."
Iannarone said she supports Portlanders who engage in non-violent resistance to oppose both the Proud Boys and law enforcement.
"Community self-defense is necessary, and I firmly believe that Portlanders want to and should legally oppose fascism in whatever way they see fit," she said.
But most elected officials are discouraging the public from attending Saturday's events.
"Stay home," reads a Thursday press release from the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners. "Multnomah County has no patience for these distractions....We urge our community not to engage with these outside agitators. Let’s not give them the platform they seek, nor the credence to be a distraction from the work ahead of us."
This message has been echoed by Wheeler, and other members of Portland City Council.
"I understand the desire to take to the streets and show extremists that hate is not welcome here," said Commissioner Chloe Eudaly in a prepared statement. "But I am asking you to stay home or at least stay away from these extremists this weekend... Most importantly for your own safety, but also to deny them what they want: an audience."