Protesters at Portland rallies to show support for police and President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign engaged in physical combat repeatedly with counterprotesters Saturday without police intervention. Members of the chaotic crowd used an array of weapons, including baseball bats and firearms to beat and threaten those they opposed.
Portland has once again become a focal point for activists of opposing ideologies, following Trump’s repeated characterizations of the city as dangerous because of nightly Black Lives Matter protests. After Friday night protests that saw some people damaging police vehicles and police responding with arrests, Trump tweeted it was “another bad night of Rioting in Portland, Oregon.”
The president and his supporters have been consistently critical of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and other city leaders for not using police more aggressively to tamp down the nearly three months of nightly demonstrations over the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jason Washington, Quanice Hayes and other people who are Black.
“We’re here in support of law and order, and our city,” demonstrator Brooke Reynard said. “We don’t feel that violence is necessary to bring about peace, because Martin Luther King did not use violence in his civil disobedience.”
However, that sentiment toward nonviolence was short lived.
Lisa kirakossian, her thoughts on today’s counter protest pic.twitter.com/N5k9k7P8zq— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) August 22, 2020
Pro-Trump demonstrators, people carrying shields with references to the QAnon conspiracy theory and members of the Proud Boys — a self-described chauvinist group that regularly engages in violence — all gathered around noon, some carrying rifles. The various rallies were held under banners such as the “No Marxism in America Rally” and the “Trump 2020 Cruise Rally.”
Counterprotesters from anti-fascist groups like Popular Mobilization PDX also gathered Saturday, and the two groups quickly began shouting at each other and engaging in tense, face-to-face confrontations in front of the Multnomah County Justice Center.
Within an hour of meeting, protesters began to push each other and throw objects. Some demonstrators on the pro-police side fired paintball guns and deployed pepper spray on counterdemonstrators. Other protesters used baseball bats. Many people wore helmets and body armor as they punched, kicked and tore at each other.
At least one pro-police demonstrator was filmed pointing a firearm at counterprotesters.
After several rounds of physical confrontations, the Portland police warned around 1:45 p.m. that if people did not stop, law enforcement would declare the protest an unlawful assembly.
“Anyone who is involved in criminal behavior is subject to arrest and/or citation. Criminal conduct may also subject you to the use of force, including, but not limited to, crowd control agents and impact weapons. Stop participating in criminal behavior,” Portland police officials tweeted.
By 2:30 p.m., most of the pro-Trump supporters retreated from downtown. Video posted online showed Portland police had started to gather in the area, but they did not intervene before counterdemonstrators drove the other protesters out of the area. Police declared an unlawful assembly at 2:50 p.m.
In a press release distributed Saturday afternoon, Portland police said its officers did not intervene to stop the fighting because those involved “willingly” engaged, its forces were stretched too thin from policing 80+ nights of protests, and the bureau didn’t feel the clashes would last that long.
“Each skirmish appeared to involve willing participants and the events were not enduring in time, so officers were not deployed to intervene,” the release states.
“PPB had to be judicious with our limited resources today especially since many of our members worked during the riot this morning and had very little sleep,” said Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell in the release.
Police said they did not declare a riot because they didn’t have the resources to handle one. After pro-Trump demonstrators left and counterprotesters returned to Terry Schrunk Plaza, federal officials declared an unlawful assembly.
Alan swinney pulls a gun on the crowd. No shots fired. pic.twitter.com/f0jKX6nmNv— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) August 22, 2020
Clashes between pro-Trump activists and Black Lives Matter demonstrators have occasionally turned toward violence over the past month, with law enforcement investigating the use of guns and improvised explosives.
Ahead of the weekend rallies, the FBI said it had received a bomb threat against federal buildings in Portland. The agency said it was still assessing the credibility of the threat Friday, and closed federal buildings through the weekend as a precaution.