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 and 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.
Proud Boys rally ends
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.
“We’re gonna monitor those ballots when they come in” Oregon woman for trump organizer says their going to “protect” ballot drop off locations pic.twitter.com/pF348OhJ8z— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) September 26, 2020
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. Police encouraged anyone who had been assaulted at the Proud Boys rally to contact them, and said investigations are already underway.
As the demonstrators left Delta Park, a counterdemonstrator stood nearby wearing a firefighter’s helmet with the letters “BLM” scrawled on it. That person waved an American flag and a sign that said, “This flag belongs to ALL Americans, not some.”
3 arrests made
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 gather at Vanport
A much larger crowd of counterdemonstrators to the Proud Boys rally gathered at the Vanport site in North Portland to discuss racial justice Saturday.
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.
The speeches on a variety of racial justice topics continued throughout the afternoon, despite occasional rains that passed through the area.
Early arrests for carrying shields
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.
Under unified command, @PortlandPolice officers recovered at least one shield near Peninsula Park. Law enforcement is performing high visibility patrols across North Portland to deter criminal activity. pic.twitter.com/dB53n99Tfi— Multnomah Co Sheriff (@MultCoSO) September 26, 2020
City transportation agency sends a message
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.
Smaller than expected group of Proud Boys arrive
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 fuck them up. That’s about it.”
Sam, passing out “back the blue” stickers pic.twitter.com/S4UoE6ZrN6— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) September 26, 2020
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.
Officers deputized federally
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.
At 9:00 A.M. this morning, members of @PortlandPolice Rapid Response Team were deputized as Federal Marshals. This will allow federal prosecutors to charge allegations of assault on a federal officer to anyone who attacks Officers-https://t.co/1pUrFr4Brr pic.twitter.com/iP1ZG6X1Nc— Oregon State Police (@ORStatePolice) September 26, 2020
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.