Far-right demonstrators declared victory in Portland on Saturday — as did masked anti-fascist counter-protesters, the mayor and even a third group dressed as dinosaurs and bananas — after dueling rallies gave extremists the national attention they sought, but with little violence.
Police in riot gear largely managed to keep the right-wing Proud Boys and their supporters apart from the counter-protesters, although sporadic clashes continued across the city late in the day.
Officers arrested at least 13 people on charges including disorderly conduct, interfering with police and resisting arrest. They also seized metal and wooden poles, bear repellent, knives and a stun gun from various groups.
In the late afternoon, police declared a civil disturbance in a downtown neighborhood and made demonstrators leave the area.
Earlier in the day, the right-wingers, waving American flags, marched across a downtown bridge as police held back the anti-fascist, or antifa, protesters massed along the waterfront. Many then dispersed, and police asked reporters and others to stop posting locations of protesters, so they could continue to keep the opposing groups apart.
Antifa activists walked around near the bridge, yelling, “Go home, Nazis.”
The showdown, hyped for weeks on social media, produced minor injuries, in contrast to violence at other face-offs in Portland over the last few years. Whimsical protesters opposing white supremacy sought to defuse tension, sporting rainbow-colored wigs, dinosaur outfits and other costumes, and spreading soap bubbles.
Joe Biggs, a leader of the Proud Boys group — labeled a hate organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center — called a morning tweet by President Trump “pretty awesome.” Trump tweeted that Portland was being watched closely, and said that “major consideration is being given to naming antifa an ‘organization of terror.’ ”
Members of the Proud Boys and Three Percenters groups had hoped to goad Rose City antifa activists into attacking them to bolster the case, though it is unclear who or what government agency would have the authority to make such a classification.
In his tweet, Trump refrained from the type of comment he made two years ago regarding deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va., when he said there were “very fine people on both sides” at the white-supremacist rally there. (He later waffled, saying, “I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis or the white nationalists because they should be condemned totally.”)
On Saturday, Trump said nothing about the far-right demonstrators in Portland — only about those protesting their appearance.
Trump had initially tweeted on July 27 that he was considering naming antifa groups terrorists. The tweet came after U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) introduced a resolution calling for the terrorist designation, citing a June 29 Portland assault on Andy Ngo, a conservative journalist. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said Wednesday that he expected arrests to be made in connection with that assault.
Over the last week, Portland police arrested six people, including Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson, in connection with a May 1 fight between far-right extremists and anti-fascists. A right-wing group called the Oath Keepers opted not to participate Saturday, saying organizers had not done enough to discourage white supremacists from showing up.
Trump also referred to Wheeler on Saturday, saying that he hoped the mayor would be able to properly do his job. In a subsequent interview, Wheeler said that “having the president chime in doesn’t do anything to de-escalate the situation,” which he said was still volatile as evening approached.
Wheeler praised the Portland Police Bureau, which massed much of its force and brought in federal agents and officers from around Oregon for a total force of 700 law enforcement officers. Police stood behind barricades that kept the opposing groups largely separated in the morning, then let a crowd of about 300 far-right demonstrators depart the downtown waterfront area by crossing a bridge over the Willamette River.
Members of Rose City Antifa, who showed up in their customary black garb, also said they judged the event a success. “We showed that Portland is not going to be intimidated by those far-right hooligans who come to our community,” said a spokesman who went by Isaac, declining to give his real name.
The demonstrators who brought humor to the situation were responding to the call of another organization, Popular Mobilization, or Pop Mob, which opposes white supremacy and fascism.
The get-ups appeared to be in the spirit of “Keep Portland weird,” the unofficial slogan of this quirky city of food carts, artisan doughnuts and naked bicycle rides. But the group said its approach represented a deliberate strategy for combating white supremacy and other forms of right-wing extremism.
The group sought to “photo bomb” the right-wing demonstrators, using ridicule to block attempts to create memes that could generate sympathy for their cause.
“We’re just here to stand up for white flour,” as opposed to white power, said LeBrie Rich, 33, a Portland artist. She and three friends, dusted liberally with flour, wore white baker’s hats and held signs saying, “White flour” and “Wife power.” They were inspired by similar tactics that had been used to defuse tensions at protests in Germany.
That sort of approach is something new and significant, said Eric Ward, executive director of Western States Center, a Portland-based civil rights organization.
“We’ll see how the evening goes, and who might not know how to demobilize” from continuing face-offs with police, Ward said. “But here we saw an evolution of nonviolent tactics by Pop Mob in a way that was very powerful and diverse.”
Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an “ORGANIZATION OF TERROR.” Portland is being watched very closely. Hopefully the Mayor will be able to properly do his job!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2019