For the past two years, Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw and Mayor Ted Wheeler have been on the defensive when it comes to their handling of the persistent political violence between out-of-town far-right groups and local antifa.
But Wednesday, they went on offense.
More than 50 community organizations, unions, business groups, local politicians and a few beloved city icons, including Timber Jimmy Storm Large and the Unipiper, joined Wheeler and Outlaw at a rally in Pioneer Courthouse Square.
They stood for an hour in the hot sun to show support for the city and condemn white supremacy as Portland braces for a demonstration on Saturday.
Wheeler kept his message simple.
“To those of you who plan on using Portland on Aug. 17 as a platform to spread your hate, you are not welcome here. To those who promote violence during otherwise peaceful demonstrations, you are not welcome here,” Wheeler said.
“And to any white supremacists who plan on coming to our community on Aug. 17, you are not welcome here.”
Many high-profile members of Portland’s law enforcement community stood alongside some of their sharpest critics and political opponents. Billy Williams, the U.S. attorney for Oregon, spoke, as did City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who butted heads with Williams when she pulled the city out of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Portland Police Association president Daryl Turner, who has repeatedly clashed with the mayor in the past, stood several rows behind him.
Shortly after Outlaw took the microphone and said the city’s reputation has been tainted by a few individuals with a violent agenda, a woman in the crowd began to yell in opposition.
“This isn’t your show today,” Outlaw responded, and then calmly continued with her speech.
The event was an attempt to “denounce violence of all forms,” according to a press release from the mayor’s office.
But for many of the speakers, it was also a rebuke to an unrealistic portrayal of the city, particularly in conservative media, as a place where police and the mayor tolerate violence and antifa attacks conservatives with impunity.
“It is time for us to stand up and support our leadership,” said Eric Ward, executive director of the Western States Center. “We are facing a political crisis, and it is ineffective and unwise to place the entire burden on city leadership and law enforcement to find a solution.”
While Outlaw and Wheeler were careful to avoid mentioning any groups by name and steered clear of any partisan political messages, the community speakers explicitly called out groups they said have fueled the cycle of violence in the city.
“We reject the puppet administration of hate and chaos in Washington, D.C., and the plague of fear unleashed upon the land,” said Avel Gordley, a former Oregon Democratic state senator and longtime civil rights leader.
A former staffer for the conspiracy theory website Infowars is organizing the gathering along with members of the Proud Boys, a fraternity that describes itself as “western chauvinist” and espouses parts of white supremacist ideology. Some III Percenters militia members from Oregon and Washington have also said they will participate.
“White supremacy. That is the problem we’re dealing with,” said Kayse Jama, a Somali immigrant who directs the advocacy group Unite Oregon. “I do not agree with antifa’s tactics, but they are not equal to the Proud Boys and III Percenters. These are well-trained, armed militia, and we have to deal with it.”
The groups have vowed to “end antifa” after an independent journalist, Andy Ngo, was badly beaten and hit in the head at a rally in Portland on June 29 by several masked demonstrators. Ngo has made his career writing and shooting video, often featuring antifa, for conservative outlets.
Multiple groups are planning counter-protests, including Rose City Antifa. The group espouses “direct action” against people it identifies as fascists, ranging from publishing their identities online to fighting with them in the streets.
With the country on edge after two mass shootings, Wheeler and Outlaw have repeatedly warned the dueling demonstrations have the potential to turn violent and have said they are particularly concerned about people who intend to bring weapons to the event.
None of Saturday’s demonstrations have been permitted with the city.
Wheeler personally became a target of criticism and vitriol after the last protest, much of it based on allegations by conservatives, that he hasn’t allowed officers to be aggressive enough in their tactics against antifa. Wheeler and Outlaw have repeatedly said the mayor isn’t involved in tactical decisions.
The Portland Police Bureau is encouraging residents to avoid Saturday’s rallies and to enjoy the day as they normally would.
“The demonstrations will be impacting a very small area of Portland,” Outlaw said in a news release. “I encourage everyone to enjoy what will likely be a beautiful day engaging in fun activities at a number of community events.”
The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) Tuesday advised people to expect a number of road closures downtown for the demonstrations.
PBOT stated that the public should avoid the area from Southwest Madison Street to Southwest Alder Street and from Southwest Fourth Avenue to Waterfront Park Saturday from 11 a.m. into the afternoon.
The bureau also encouraged Portlanders to take part in other community activities such as the Portland Thorns game at Providence Park.
Some events that were scheduled in the area have been relocated due to the demonstrations such as the Roses on the River 5k Run and Walk, which was originally scheduled at Waterfront Park and is now taking place at the Eastbank Esplanade.
Kells Irish Pub also canceled the Summer Smoker, a live amateur exhibition boxing match that was scheduled for Saturday and is refunding hundreds of tickets it sold ahead of time.
The owner, Gerald McAleese, is an immigrant from Northern Ireland who became a U.S. citizen this year. He was worried about the safety of his staff and patrons.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify a description of the Proud Boys.