Online threats of violence prompted a large law enforcement presence as police attempted to keep protesting groups separated.
Even before the events were officially supposed to begin Sunday, hundreds of police in riot gear were in place to block the streets separating a pro-Trump free speech event at Terry Schrunk Plaza and counter demonstrations by progressive groups on multiple sides of Schrunk Plaza.
A protester holds a sign reading “Be like Micah.” Micah Fletcher was one of three men stabbed last week on a MAX train. pic.twitter.com/KNEB3nmtUc— Bryan M. Vance (@BryanMVance) June 4, 2017
Andrew and Kimberley Hollenback, who said they were U.S. Army veterans from Portland, stood with a group of union members Sunday afternoon chanting, “Drive the Nazis out, Portland labor has the clout.”
“I’m here because I support people’s ability to speak freely, but contrasting opinions must be expressed,” said Andrew Hollenback, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The opinions they have seem contrary to everything I fought and bled for. We’re a melting pot. We don’t need to exclude.”
Across the street, at the right-wing rally, Robert Montgomery said he’d come from Pleasanton, California, to thank people from the Pacific Northwest who traveled to Berkeley for pro-Trump protests there earlier this year.
Montgomery said he’d also recently protested in New Orleans, where the decision to remove monuments to Confederate leaders prompted clashing events.
“It was real pins and needles in New Orleans. We had groups on our side armed, they had groups on their side armed,” he said. “Anybody who is deviating from American values, we need to correct and redirect — American values of individual freedoms, without having to resort to micro-communities.”
These are some of the items that have been seized so far today. pic.twitter.com/VsfenLPZhS— Portland Police (@PortlandPolice) June 4, 2017
The pro-Donald Trump free speech rally had been planned for Sunday afternoon by a conservative group long before the TriMet attacks. The event, organized by the group Patriot Prayer, was billed on its Facebook page as a “Trump Free Speech Rally.”
City leaders questioned the timing of the rally so soon after the TriMet attacks. Mayor Ted Wheeler unsuccessfully asked the federal government, which runs Schrunk Plaza, to revoke the permit for the event. And the family of a man who was stabbed but survived asked for organizers to cancel the right-wing rally.
“We all very much fear for what could occur during these rallies,” Janis Heater, the grandmother of stabbing victim Micah Fletcher, told OPB this week. “The city is in a very emotional state right now.”
Heavy police presence here at the Trump Free Speech Rally and counter protest. A few random arrests have already occurred. pic.twitter.com/qKTu0IJnHj— Bryan M. Vance (@BryanMVance) June 4, 2017
Calls to cancel the right-wing event drew more national attention, including the announcement that several leaders in the white supremacist movement would be visiting Portland. The Oath Keepers, a militia group that includes former military and law-enforcement officials, planned to provide security for the right-wing event.
After the TriMet attacks, a coalition of progressive groups planned their own rally in response. Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, who was in Oregon Friday, advised against mounting a counter-protest in downtown Portland this weekend.
“Let them march alone,” Jackson said.
Some religious groups did decide not to rally, but left-wing organizers opted to continue with their events.
Since the election of President Donald Trump last fall, large protests have become common in downtown Portland and tensions have risen between ralliers — particularly those associated with the so-called “black bloc” anarchist movement — and police.
Just a few days before the TriMet attacks, the family of a black teenager killed by police as they investigated an armed robbery earlier this year called on the mayor to change the way police regulate protests in the hope of avoiding future violence.
Among other changes, they wanted police out of riot gear at political events.
If anything, the police presence Sunday was the highest — and most proactive — yet. Law enforcement officials were checking the bags of people entering Schrunk Plaza and had already made several arrests an hour before the right-wing event was scheduled to begin. Officers confiscated potential weapons, including sling shots, flares, sharpened sticks, brass knuckles, metal poles and knives.
Police are searching the bags of everyone who enters Terry Shrunk Plaza. Earlier I watched them confiscate a metal pole. pic.twitter.com/VFju3uWCGC— Amelia Templeton (@ameliaOPB) June 4, 2017
In Schrunk Plaza, some of the protestors at the right-wing rally were dressed in military-style camouflage and American flags, while others wore red Trump “Make America Great Again” caps. They chanted “U-S-A” and “All Lives Matter,” and some shouted “You’re the real Nazis,” across the street at the progressive crowds.
Joey Gibson, the organizer of the right-wing event, began it by encouraging the crowd to remember that they’re being watched — and judged.
“I’m calling on everyone to please, do everything you can to be positive,” he said. Gibson talked about lessons he learned when he came to downtown Portland to protest for his free-speech rights and yelled back at people who shouted derogatory things at him. He said he realized later he hadn’t accomplished his goal of making liberal Portlanders think about other views.
Joey Gibson, the organizer of the Trump Free Speech Rally, is addressing the crowd right now. Says “hate has to end.” pic.twitter.com/S9VfJjWzNe— Bryan M. Vance (@BryanMVance) June 4, 2017
“See what it’s like, when someone yells at you and cusses at you and you respond with love and kindness,” he said. “Hatred is a disease. It does not stop with one person. We need to stop spreading love to stop this hate. Today could be a great start.”
A few minutes later, Gibson said he and other protestors were there to “bring logic back into Portland … and to show Portland and the rest of the West Coast how to be correct, not politically correct.”
“Portland, I mean no disrespect, but you’ve gotten crazy,” he said.
Other speakers denounced political correctness, demanded a federal investigation of Mayor Ted Wheeler for “harboring illegal immigrants” in Portland and called protestors Godless communists. They repeatedly praised the Trump administration.
On the left, where the crowds vastly outnumbered the pro-Trump numbers, protestors carried signs supporting gay rights, immigrant rights and Black Lives Matter. The black-clad, masked anarchists who have tussled with police at past events were handing out free ice cream at the start of the day, but by the end, they’d burned flags and some of the more extreme protestors had thrown bricks at police.
Around 3:30 p.m., about three hours after the progressive rallies began, police announced that they were closing Chapman Square due to suspected criminal activity. Officers reported someone had thrown foul-smelling liquid inside balloons at the right-wing rally and that others had removed bricks from the public bathroom at Chapman Square.
People are coughing and crying as the pepper spray is heavy in the air. Protesters chant “Who do you serve? Who do you protect.”— Bryan M. Vance (@BryanMVance) June 4, 2017
Officers began using flash-bang grenades and tear gas to move people out of the square. Police said protestors had thrown items at officers. After the parks closed, some on the left attempted to march through downtown. Police soon stopped the march and detained about 100 people, including a number of journalists. Most in that crowd were released after officers checked IDs and searched for weapons.
By 5:30 p.m., most of the crowd had left downtown. Police were forming a cordon to separate departing left- and right-wing protestors.