A planned rally by pro-Trump and alt-right groups in downtown Portland Sunday a rally that Mayor Ted Wheeler attempted to have canceled in the wake of the dual fatal stabbings aboard a commuter train that appear to have been racially and "patriotically" motivated ended in the arrests of at least 14 people, many of whom may have been a part of a counter-protest that took shape in the city's Chapman Square. As Portland station KGW reports, "Police detained a large group of protesters and others who were marching after being removed from Chapman Square where a separate protest designated for an anti-fascist group was eventually closed." And allegedly it was "only the protesters at Chapman Square [who] engaged in criminal behavior," throwing "bricks, mortars and balloons filled with 'unknown, foul-smelling liquid'" at police.
Tensions mounted over the last week over the planned rally, organized by Portland conservative group Patriot Prayer, given that the group acknowledged that the accused killer in the train attack had attended one of their rallies in April, was photographed giving a Nazi salute, and had a baseball bat he was carrying confiscated. Organizer Joey Gibson referred to the 35-year-old suspect Jeremy Joseph Christian as "not one of us" and "all crazy," and with the help of the ACLU sought to convince Mayor Wheeler that pulling their event permit would be a violation of their free speech rights.
Mat Dos Santos, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, has said that Wheeler's initial decision to pull the permit was wrong and unconstitutional, and ACLU of Oregon's executive director David Rogers agrees, writing in an open letter, "Standing up for the rights of hateful people is very difficult, especially in a climate where so many of us feel under attack. But there are very important reasons to do so. The Constitution doesn’t work unless it works for everyone, and it’s the Constitution that provides the best protections for oppressed communities."
CBS affiliate KOIN reports that both the pro-Trump rally and multiple counter protests were "largely peacefeul" despite the 14 arrests, but that ended around 2 p.m. Sunday when reports came in of projectiles being thrown at officers in Chapman Square.
Anarchists now coming face to face with Police after being pushed out of Chapman Square pic.twitter.com/givwkpcNgY— Andrew Dymburt (@DymburtNews) June 4, 2017
Those arrested ranged in age from 19 to 46, and the charges were primarily disorderly conduct, concealing a weapon, and interfering with an officer.
Protesters on different sides of the political spectrum were mostly kept apart by police tape in Terry Schrunk Plaza, with the mayor telling KOIN, "The goal is to keep everybody separated, respect First Amendment rights for everybody to speak their piece."
A counter-protester told KOIN, "We wanted to show people that we’re not afraid and this is our town and we’re not going to tolerate any hatred here." Meanwhile, one of those on the pro-Trump side said, "Our side over here, our patriots have been calm. But Antifa, liberals, very very fierce it’s just a terrorist group."
Portland Police later posted photos to Twitter of the various objects and weapons they confiscated.
Several of the weapons seized so far today. pic.twitter.com/U6z2jO0BVu— Portland Police (@PortlandPolice) June 4, 2017
Another collection of weapons seized today. pic.twitter.com/tdMmMSM2Wp— Portland Police (@PortlandPolice) June 5, 2017
The event called to mind the recent dustups in Berkeley, where conservative and alt-right groups have planned public gatherings specifically to incite counter protest and seemingly to provoke bad behavior from the people they refer to largely as "antifa," in order to gain publicity for the idea that the militant left wing seeks to suppress free speech.
Patriot Prayer's Joey Gibson has frequently encouraged supporters on social media that "It's OK to be a conservative in Portland," and that it is up to them to turn the blue state red.
“[Mayor Wheeler] went up on TV and he literally connected us to Jeremy Christian, which is extremely irresponsible,” Gibson said to MyNorthwest. “He said that I’m going to go up there [at the rally] and I’m going to have hate speech and I’m going to be bigoted. That’s a complete lie all he did was make it worse Jeremy Christian has nothing to do with us."
Gibson plans to attend a follow-up protest against Sharia law in Seattle on June 10.