Months of escalating clashes by far-right groups in Portland, Oregon could turn even uglier at a Saturday rally where the right has threatened to carry guns and infiltrate anti-fascist groups.
Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys are far-right organizations that have attracted violent racists. The two groups have spearheaded a series of west coast rallies, including a June 30 rally in Portland that descended into violent clashes with anti-fascist protesters. Now they are scheduled to rally on Saturday in Portland, where their leaders have encouraged the carrying of guns and their followers have fantasized about beating up counter-protesters.
Joey Gibson, Patriot Prayer’s leader and a longshot U.S. Senate candidate, variously defends his rallies as a free speech project, an anti-liberal campaign, and a crusade to expose the anti-fascists who counter-message the rallies. In Portland, his group’s stated beef is with anti-ICE activists and the city’s mayor, who initially took a hands-off approach to anti-ICE protests.
“The goal is to get the country so outraged they put pressure on the mayor to actually respect the Constitution,” Gibson said of the upcoming rally during a Tuesday appearance on InfoWars. “Basically that’s what we do. We put so much pressure on the local politicians to the point where they break.”
The August 4 demonstration is also billed as Gibson campaign rally. In a different Tuesday livestream, Gibson discussed plans to create chaos among anti-fascists (antifa), an unofficial collection of leftist protesters who have become bogeymen for the far-right.
“We’re gonna have several people who are gonna be dressed up in black bloc [clothing] and they’re gonna be all amongst their crowd, all through antifa,” Gibson said. “I think it’s time we use the masks against antifa. They don’t know who’s who, they don’t know what is going on. So we’re gonna have tons of people within antifa who are gonna start with them, who are gonna march with them back to us, and not only are they going to be causing havoc for antifa.”
He claimed approximately 35 of his followers, half of whom were Proud Boys, had volunteered for the task.
Gibson said those followers would be armed with “pepper spray that they’re going to be using within, just to get those who are committing crimes.”
A spokesperson for Rose City Antifa, a Portland anti-fascist group says they’re aware of the tactic, but that Gibson has a history of falling short on anti-antifa plans.
“Joey always puts out a lot of contradictory information and boldfaced lies about what he's going to do, so we're taking it with a grain of salt,” the spokesperson said. “We’ll definitely be on the lookout for any suspicious activity.”
But pepper spray will be among the less-lethal weapons at the rally, Gibson said. The rally will take place in a Portland waterfront park, where guns are allowed with a concealed carry permit.
Gibson claimed the location was incidental, because he and his followers are always carrying guns.
“Even if it was my intent to have it at the waterfront so we could have a bunch of guns there, even if that were my intent, that wouldn’t really be a big deal because guns are not weird,” he said during a livestream, in which his young child was seen playing with what appeared to be a semi-automatic gun or replica in the background.
“We have guns on us at all times. And that’s not an extreme statement, that’s completely normal. We have several guns in our house everywhere. I always have a gun on me at all times, we just don’t pull them out.”
Although Gibson instructed supporters not to take any illegal actions, his followers have championed violence on and offline. (A previous Patriot Prayer attendee is Jeremy Christian, a white supremacist who murdered two people who intervened when he yelled at two young women, one of whom was Muslim, on a Portland train last year.)
During a livestream, Gibson said he was shipping in supporters on an armed bus from Vancouver. On Facebook, a Proud Boy who has reportedly clashed with anti-fascists and attended past Patriot Prayer events, wrote of using the buses to beat down counter-protesters.
“If the ninjas try to rush the bus again this weekend, [Proud Boy guards] will let 2 or 3 lucky ones on the bus and say, ‘now youse cant leave’ and the rest will watch in horror through the glass on what happens,” he wrote, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. “itll be be [sic] a great show, like looking at hookers thorough the glass in Amsterdam.” Facebook profiles reviewed by The Daily Beast reveal one planned attendee promoting the fascist terrorist book “Siege.” Another Patriot Prayer attendee, who this year shot and killed a homeless man in front of witnesses but was never indicted, reportedly posted in Patriot Prayer Facebook comments that “ANTIFA BLOOD WILL FLOW LIKE THE SHIT RIVER IN THIS CITY…YOU ARE PATRIOT OR TRAITOR!!!! YOUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED PUSSIES!!!!”
In recent months, Proud Boy and Patriot Prayer associates have also been accused of attempting to start fights with the left. One Proud Boy, Tusitala "Tiny" Toese, has been involved in a number of escalating incidents in the Pacific Northwest since 2017, Willamette Week first reported.
In two recent incidents, Toese and associates have been accused of driving through town, either shouting “Build the wall!” or flying a Confederate flag. When passersby yelled at them, the far-right demonstrators allegedly jumped out of their car and attacked.
Most recently, Toese and other Patriot Front and Proud Boys affiliates have attempted to goad anti-ICE protesters. When Gibson livestreamed the confrontation, during which Toese threatened protesters, a commenter told Toese to “save” his energy for “for the 4th,” the SPLC reported.
Rose City Antifa said they hoped this Patriot Prayer rally would mark the last of the clashes.
“The general thing we're looking for on Saturday is a large block of the community to come out and tell these groups that enough is enough, and that the violence and threats they're carrying out against the Portland community need to stop,” the group’s spokesperson said.
During his livestreams, Gibson warned that anti-fascists would attack his group, but also implied violence against anti-fascists.
“We’re gonna have a whole bunch of people within antifa, and they’re going to take care of business within their group too,” he said.
“It’s hard to do what we’re doing. It’s easy to do what they do until they get punched in the face and knocked out and have to go to the hospital.”