After years of delays, the criminal cases of the far-right activists involved in a May 2019 brawl outside the former Northeast Portland pub Cider Riot have all come to a close. The incident was led by individuals associated with Patriot Prayer, a Vancouver, Washington extremist group known for coming to Portland to start fights with antifascist activists.
After sparring with a group of antifascists outside Cider Riot, six of the Patriot Prayer-affiliated men involved were arrested on charges ranging from assault to riot. Three of those accepted a plea deal with the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office, admitting their guilt for their crimes. Two, including leader of Patriot Prayer Joey Gibson, had their charges acquitted by a judge. And a jury found the remaining activist, a man named Mackenzie Lewis, guilty on riot charges. Lewis faces three days in jail for his conviction. The largest sentence of the group went to Ian Kramer, who struck a woman with a baton so forcefully during the May brawl that she was knocked unconscious and sustained a vertebrae fracture. The result of a plea deal put him behind bars for 20 months.
For a community eager to finally hold Patriot Prayer responsible for the years of torment the group has brought to Portland, the results of the criminal cases came as a disappointment. For those following radical right-wing extremist groups, it came as a warning. To understand the impact that the case outcomes may have on the future of right-wing extremism in Portland, we spoke with Stephen Piggott, an analyst with the Western States Center, a nonprofit focused on confronting and reducing extremism in the west.
MERCURY: Were you surprised by outcome of these cases?
PIGGOTT: No, I wasn't entirely surprised. Groups like Patriot Prayer and other bigoted and anti-democratic groups certainly do look to push people’s boundaries. And they look to push boundaries without facing accountability. It’s not easy to hold them accountable.
It seems like they know how to walk the line of what's illegal and what's not.
Yeah. And I'm not a legal expert, but I think there were other criminal charges that could have been introduced and made a difference.
How do you feel about the way these cases resolved?
It's certainty concerning. I don’t think the outcome of these cases will serve as a deterrent to Patriot Prayer at all. When punishment doesn’t happen it sends a green light to these groups that it's permissible. Already, we've seen that Joey Gibson is not slowing down at all in terms of organizing events. At the same time, we also know that simply locking people up isn’t going to solve this problem.
In Portland, it's important to explore the full range of options. We need to see responses from multiple different city entities, not just the District Attorney's office. There are civil actions cities can take—we saw that happen in Charlottesville. Civil suits are a great tool in responding to political violence.
There currently is a civil lawsuit suit pending against members of Patriot Prayer who engaged in the May 2019 protest filed by the owner of Cider Riot. Do you think that could have an impact?
Yes. I'll look forward to the results of that case. It's a tool that should be used much more often.
What else can Portland do to prevent future violent protests from Patriot Prayer and other right-wing extremists?
One thing that's often overlooked, especially in a place like Portland, is the proximity to a state border. You have people coming in from Washington and other states with weapons, seeking to participate in violence [which is a federal crime]. Local and state governments should be asking the federal government to intervene. The Western States Center wrote a letter encouraging the US Department of Justice to investigate Patriot Front after their members were arrested by local law enforcement in Coeur d'Alene.
But to be honest, I don't know what it's going to take. There has not been a significant slowdown in political violence that’s occurred here since Patriot Prayer began coming to Portland. And I don’t see the outcome of the recent trial slowing things down at all. If anything, it's given them a free pass to keep at it.