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Hate-Group Rally Breaks Up In Portland, Turnout Far Below Expectations

A group of about 200 people gathered for a rally in Portland on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. The demonstration was held in Delta Park and put together by the Proud Boys, a designated hate group. A counterdemonstration was planned in a nearby park.
Sergio Olmos
A group of about 200 people gathered for a rally in Portland on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. The demonstration was held in Delta Park and put together by the Proud Boys, a designated hate group. A counterdemonstration was planned in a nearby park.

Portland braced for potential violence Saturday as the Proud Boys, designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, planned to bring people into the city for an unsanctioned rally.

The Proud Boys — designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — rallied Saturday in Portland in numbers far below what they’d projected, and then began to disperse after less than two hours.

The city had braced for violence as the group, known for confrontations with left wing and antifascist protesters, arrived at Delta Park in North Portland around 10 a.m. A counterdemonstration took place at nearby Peninsula Park.

The Proud Boys rally was organized by national leaders of the group who do not live in Oregon, but have traveled to the city before to try to stoke violence.

On Friday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency and put the Oregon State Police in charge of law enforcement’s response to the rally. The move cleared the way for more officers to participate in efforts to separate dueling groups.

Elected officials had denounced the demonstrations Saturday, saying their only goal was to provoke violence following a summer of protests for racial justice in the city. Though the Proud Boys applied for a permit to hold the gathering, city parks officials denied it because it violated state health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Though the Proud Boys said they expected thousands of people and a demonstration that would last three hours, the group fell far short of its expectations on both fronts.

After 90 minutes spent gathered at Portland’s Delta Park on Saturday, a group of 200 to 300 people began to disperse and leave the area.

A variety of people gave speeches at the event while the largely maskless crowd waved American, Confederate and Trump 2020 flags.

Though some members of the Proud Boys did engage in verbal confrontations and shoved a few people who were filming them, the widespread violence that has occurred at similar events in the past did not materialize at the Saturday rally.

As the demonstrators left Delta Park, a counterdemonstrator stood nearby wearing a firefighter’s helmet with the letters “BLM” scrawled on it. That person held an American flag and a sign that said, “This flag belongs to ALL Americans, not some.”

As of 1 p.m., law enforcement said they had made three arrests related to the demonstrations, but did not provide details on those arrests.

Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office communications director Chris Liedle said police had made one arrest related to a shield at the counterdemonstration, but the agency was aware shields were on display at both gatherings.

“Our primary focus is life safety, and the protection of free speech rights without regard to the content of that speech,” Liedle said in a recorded statement.

Counterdemonstrators to the Proud Boys rally gathered at the Vanport site in North Portland to discuss racial justice.

Speakers talked about the history of Vanport, a town that once housed a large part of Oregon’s Black residents but was wiped out in a catastrophic 1948 flood. Racist policies of the time had concentrated many African Americans in Vanport as they worked on shipbuilding efforts during World War II.

After the disaster, discriminatory housing policies made it difficult for many of the people who lived in the community to resettle.

[ Watch: “Oregon Experience” documentary on history of Vanport]

Around noon, law enforcement officers arrested a counterprotester near Peninsula Park for carrying a shield.

A witness to the incident told OPB that officers said “all shields are off limits today," and that they would be considered weapons. The witness declined to share their name because they were participating in the counterdemonstration.

That person also said officers told them they would similarly confiscate shields from the Proud Boys group.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation changed several of its reader boards near Delta Park to alternate between the messages “Hate has no place here” and “Black Lives Matter.” A sign near the Morrison Bridge was also changed to carry the messages.

On Twitter, the agency said it made the changes at the direction of City Commissioner Chloe Eudaley, who overseas the bureau.

As the designated time of the Proud Boys rally approached Saturday, a couple hundred people had gathered in North Portland’s Delta Park. Some wore Fred Perry polo shirts, the group’s favored uniform. Earlier in the day, the fashion company said it would stop selling the shirt type in the United States and Canada because of the group’s appropriation.

Other people gathered in the park wearing camouflage and military-style protective vests. A few people were observed openly carrying handguns.

The group had said it expected to draw thousands of supporters for its event, though far fewer people gathered by the rally’s designated starting time.

Joe Biggs, one of the event organizers for the Proud Boys, claimed his group was not in Portland to engage in violence.

“Like I said, if anything happens today that’s violent, it won’t be because of us,” Biggs said, adding his group would respond to counterdemonstrators. “If they come out here and put their hands on us, we’re going to f*ck them up. That’s about it.”

Some members of the group with the Proud Boys also wore helmets and other protective gear, along with patches for various militia groups, including the Three Percenters.

Ahead of Saturday’s protests, the U.S. Marshal’s Service deputized members of the Portland Police Bureau’s rapid response team, the group of officers typically managing crowd control at police events.

“This will allow federal prosecutors to charge allegations of assault on a federal officer to anyone who attacks Officers,” the Oregon State Police wrote on Twitter.

Federal involvement in managing protests in Portland has been contentious. During summer protests for racial justice, federal officers often used crowd control munitions and legally questionable arrests away from federal property to tamp down demonstrations.

More recently, federal prosecutors have begun to bring charges against demonstrators. Since large protests began in May, President Trump has criticized law enforcement in Portland often for not being harsher on demonstrators, and regularly references the city during political messages about law and order during his reelection campaign.
Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Ryan Haas, Sergio Olmos, Jonathan Levinson