A jury has found 32-year-old Mackenzie Lewis, an affiliate of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, guilty of engaging in a riot during a Portland street brawl on May 1, 2019. The brawl took place after members of the conservative group approached a now-shuttered Northeast Portland bar called Cider Riot, where a group of anti-fascist activists were meeting. The confrontation began with yelled insults, and escalated to a physical brawl which sent one anti-fascist individual to the hospital.
The decision comes after a somewhat unusual trial. The trial began with three defendants all facing riot charges: Lewis, Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson, and another Patriot Prayer member Russell Shultz.
The case centered on the definition of the riot charge, which in Oregon law is when someone "engages in tumultuous and violent conduct and thereby intentionally or recklessly creates a grave risk of causing public alarm" along with a group of five or more people.
On Tuesday, Judge Benjamin Souede acquitted both Gibson and Schultz, accepting their lawyers' arguments that their actions during the May Day fracas could not be defined as "tumultuous and violent conduct." Yet Souede dismissed the acquittal request from Lewis' lawyer Kelly Doyle, noting that Lewis' conduct could possibly fall into that category.
During the trial's closing arguments, the prosecution pointed to two moments caught on video that captured Lewis' criminal conduct. In the first instance, Lewis is standing next to Gibson, a few feet away from the crowd of anti-fascists gathered at the Cider Riot patio. A woman dressed in all black at the front of the Cider Riot crowd walks up to Gibson, and Gibson pushes her back with his hand. Moments later, Lewis grabs at the woman's face and pulls down a cloth mask that is covering her face. She then slaps a cell phone out of Gibson's hand. In response, Lewis hits in her in the face.
Lewis' lawyer attempted to argue that this was Lewis' attempt to defend Gibson from assault. Deputy district attorney Brad Kalbaugh quickly rejected that idea in his closing argument.
"When the defendant sees the phone's been knocked down, he doesn't step in to protect Mr. Gibson.... he strikes her in the face," said Kalbaugh. "That's not defense, that's revenge. That's no different than two kids in a schoolyard where one hits the other one and the other one says, 'Oh you hit me? I'm going to hit you back harder.'"
The second action prosecutors deem as criminal is later in the fracas, when Lewis is filmed picking up an empty canister of bear mace from the sidewalk and hurling it into the crowd of people standing on Cider Riot's patio. In his closing arguments, Doyle told the jury that, if they watched the video in slow-motion, they would notice that the canister hits the ground before it hits any person. However, Doyle did not present the video to the jury to back up his claim. Kalbaugh did. The video appeared to show Lewis throwing the canister overhand at people's bodies.
"Look at the clip, watch what the defendant does," Kalbaugh told the jury. "Look at the judge's instructions and the definition of violent and tumultuous conduct, and you will find that this is exactly what he did."
Doyle's defense of Lewis was rambling and unfocused, hopping confusingly between personal anecdotes and sweeping generalizations about the May 1 clash. He argued that Lewis wore a helmet and heavy gloves that afternoon not because he was preparing to fight, but because the helmet protected his balding head from a sunburn—and that he simply wanted to "protect his hands."
Before the jury entered the courtroom Wednesday, Doyle shared with the court that he was planning on reading a passage from the Bible and wearing a religious cross during his closing arguments. Doyle suggested that the passage would support the idea that Lewis was defending Gibson during the clash—because Gibson was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a cross on the day of the Cider Riot incident. Souede barred him from reading the passage, but allowed him to wear the cross. The cross wasn't mentioned, however, during Doyle's argument.
Lewis is the last of six Patriot Prayer members to face trial over his actions of May 1, 2019. The three not included in this week's case—Ian Kramer, Chris Ponte, and Matthew Cooper—all opted to plead guilty to their crimes instead of facing a jury trial.
Lewis faces up to 5 years in prison for a riot conviction. His sentence will be determined at a 2 pm hearing on August 1.