PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – The expected melee between extreme right wing protesters and antifascist counter-demonstrators didn’t fully materialize Saturday, resolving with a handful of scattered arrests as far right organizers in town from Utah and Florida called the rally “a success” while retreating to drink beer at a barbecue.
Portland police asked citizens to stay out of the area where they expected the protests to happen – a section of downtown along the Willamette River that spanned six blocks by five blocks. But hundreds of people showed up anyway.
Several hundred were part of a right wing rally organized by former Infowars reporter and Florida radio host Joe Biggs. That group included the often violent Proud Boys, an “extremist conservative group,” according to the Anti Defamation League.
Also present were members of the anti-government militia group the Three Percenters and the American Guard, “hardcore white supremacists,” according to the Anti Defamation League.
Hundreds more joined a variety of counter demonstrations that included morning meditation, life-size puppets and a brass band in banana costumes, as well as black-clad antifascist protesters. Brief skirmishes erupted, but police kept the groups mostly separated and opened a closed bridge to let Biggs’ group escape to the east side of the city, where they got into trucks and drove to nearby Vancouver, Washington for a barbecue.
“I told you guys that I was going to throw you a curve ball,” right wing organizer Enrique Tarrio told his followers via loudspeaker just after they had assembled on Saturday. “It’s a pretty hefty curveball. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has wasted millions just to host people in this park. He’s wasted the time of police officers, so we’re going to waste his resources today. We’re going to barbecue, we’re going to hang out and we’re going to enjoy ourselves as we send our message.”
Portland police refused Saturday to confirm the amount they had spent preparing for the rallies, but had previously announced the cancellation of days off for all sworn members. Oregon State Police, Multnomah County Sheriffs and even county park rangers worked the rallies Saturday.
Biggs told Courthouse News that leaving early had been his plan from the start. He said he wants Portland police to crack down on antifascist protestors – the “terrorists” after which he named his “End Domestic Terrorism” rally.
“The strategy there is to build it up and then come in and be the most peaceful thing that then just leave,” Biggs said. “We drained all these resources. And all they had to do was do their job and if they don’t do that, then guess what? We’ll come in and do it again next month. And then next month and next month.”
As of press time, police confirmed 13 arrests, mostly among antifacist counter demonstrators. But the usual after-protest game of cat-and-mouse between leftist protesters and police continued.
In the days leading up to Saturday’s protest, Portland police issued arrest warrants for five local far-right extremists for an alleged assault outside a Portland bar in the aftermath of a May Day protest. One of the men arrested was Joey Gibson, leader of Vancouver, Washington-based group Patriot Prayer. Despite his arrest, Gibson was present at Saturday’s protest. He told Courthouse News a pending felony charge for rioting wasn’t going to keep him away.
“I had to be here to show them I’m not going to stand down just because they gave me a false charge,” Gibson said.
Just before leaving for their barbecue, far right organizers Biggs, Tarrio and the Proud Boys hauled out a speaker and played “Proud to Be an American.” A singalong ensued.
“This, ladies and gentlemen, is what a win looks like,” Tarrio said over the loudspeaker.