Thousands of supporters of the far-right Proud Boys group were expected in Portland, Ore., on Saturday as police prepared for clashes in a city that has become the epicentre of sometimes deadly political violence in the run-up to the Nov. 3 election.
Gov. Kate Brown on Friday declared a weekend state of emergency for Oregon’s biggest city, saying “white supremacist groups” were travelling from out of state to attend an event the Proud Boys group says was organized to “end domestic terrorism.”
Local and state leaders said in a letter to the community that many participants have openly discussed tactical operations and military-style formations and planned to cause chaos and violence while claiming to be acting in support of police.
“The event poses a physical danger to Portland residents, as clearly shown by the organizers’ long track record of assaults, confrontations and threats against elected officials and the citizenry of Portland,” the letter said.
“We clearly state, once again, that law enforcement do not want or need any help from paramilitaries or vigilante groups.”
U.S. President Donald Trump, who has made law and order a principal theme of his re-election bid, has singled out Portland as one of several Democratic-led cities he denounces as “anarchist jurisdictions” that should have federal funding cut.
His Democratic challenger, former vice-president Joe Biden, said Trump’s rhetoric was stoking violence.
The self-declared “Western chauvinist” Proud Boys group has publicized the protest on Facebook for weeks, despite the social network’s pledge to block such pages, according to images provided by the Tech Transparency Project seen by Reuters. Facebook said on Friday that it had removed the pages.
Confrontations while publicly denouncing violence
The pro-Trump, pro-gun rights Proud Boys publicly denounce violence, but members wearing trademark black and yellow polo shirts often brawl with opponents on the left at rallies.
Portland has become a magnet for far-right counter-protesters following four months of anti-fascist and Black Lives Matter demonstrations against police violence and racism.
Left-right clashes have escalated across the United States since mid-August — a self-declared anti-fascist shooting dead a far-right Patriot Prayer member in Portland on Aug. 29 after a teenage vigilante was arrested in the shooting death of two protesters and the wounding of another in Kenosha, Wis., on Aug. 25.
Facebook and other online platforms such as Parler have buzzed with calls for protesters to arm themselves and wild talk of civil war, according to pages monitored by Reuters.
In their letter to the community, local and state leaders said that for three years, Portland has had to endure rallies like the one planned for Saturday, with participants threatening “takeovers” of the city and touting their “combat unit” capacity.
The letter said paramilitary and alt-right activity was a challenge to Portland’s inclusive and democratic values but that city and state leaders would not be intimidated.
Task force can use ‘proportional force’
“Portland has a long and proud history of opposing far-right organizing and standing up for Black lives in the Rose City, and Saturday will be no different,” the letter said.
Under Brown’s emergency declaration, a state and local law enforcement task force is authorized to use “proportional force,” including tear gas, to keep the peace.
The Proud Boys will gather at noon local time at Delta Park, about 10 kilometres north of downtown. Groups on the left will hold a counter-protest about two kilometres away. Police aim to keep them apart.
The men-only Proud Boys group describes itself as a fraternal organization that is “anti-racism” and “anti-political correctness.”
Civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the Proud Boys as a hate group, citing its members’ anti-Muslim and misogynist rhetoric.