Judge Rejects Far Right Leader’s Claims of ‘Political Persecution’

U.S. District Judge Karin Immergut ruled Friday that she can’t interfere with the state court’s active prosecution of far-right leader Joey Gibson and that the correct place for Gibson’s challenges to his charges will be at his own trial.

Joey Gibson, leader of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, appeared at the Portland, Oregon rally on Aug. 17, 2019 following his arrest on a felony rioting charge stemming from a May Day protest. (Karina Brown/CNS)

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — The leader of far-right Patriot Prayer will have to face charges over his involvement in a 2019 street brawl that left one woman with a fractured spine, after a federal judge tossed his claim that a new policy to dismiss most charges from this summer’s racial justice protests is unfair because it doesn’t apply to him.

Joey Gibson, the Vancouver, Washington leader of Patriot Prayer, has been bringing his followers to Portland since 2016 for “free speech” protests where he and his crew would often square off against antifascists. In May 2019, one such protest had ended and leftist protesters had retreated to a southeast Portland cider bar.

Videos show Gibson’s followers massing up near the bar, discussing their weapons and exhorting others over the phone to join in what will be “a huge fight,” according to court documents. The group waited for Gibson to arrive before heading to the now-defunct Cider Riot, where Multnomah County prosecutors say they shoved and taunted antifascist protesters “in an effort to provoke a fight.”

Multnomah County prosecutors charged Gibson with one count of felony riot — a case he fought unsuccessfully to have transferred, arguing that he couldn’t get a fair trial in Portland. 

Then in August, a new district attorney stepped in and announced a new policy in response to the more than 550 people who had been arrested in the nightly racial justice protests that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Eleven days into his term as elected district attorney of Multnomah County, Mike Schmidt announced that his office would decline to prosecute cases related to the protests that do not involve violence, theft, or deliberate property damage, including charges of rioting not accompanied by those other crimes.

Schmidt said the policy was an attempt to “create a forum” for Portlanders to express their “collective grief, anger and frustration” about Floyd’s death, and about “the countless other abuses people of color have endured in our country throughout history.”

But Schmidt declined to dismiss Gibson’s charge over the 2019 incident, saying the policy wasn’t intended to be retroactive or to apply to situations unrelated to the summer’s racial justice protests.

Gibson and Russell Schultz, a far-right protester who is also facing charges from the May 2019 incident outside Cider Riot, sued Schmidt and the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office in federal court, claiming Schmidt was running a sham prosecution intended to silence conservative protesters.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Karin Immergut dismissed Gibson’s lawsuit, ruling Friday that she can’t interfere with the state court’s active prosecution, and that the correct place for Joey Gibson’s challenges to his charges will be at his own trial.

Far from the sham prosecution described by Gibson and his attorney, former Multnomah County GOP Chairman James Buchal, Immergut found that prosecutors went through the full process required under the law to bring charges against Gibson.

That included presenting an affidavit of probable cause, getting a judge’s signature on an arrest warrant and presenting evidence to a grand jury, which found reason to endorse Gibson’s indictment. Further, a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge had rejected Gibson’s claim that the indictment didn’t show reason to sustain the charges against him.

“While evidence that plaintiffs’ charges have gone through the traditional state criminal process is not dispositive on the issue of bad faith, it is powerful evidence tending to rebut the assertion that the charges are a complete ‘sham,’ as argued by plaintiffs,” Immergut wrote.

And she questioned Gibson’s assertion that he was a force for peace during the brawl.

“While the videos show Gibson discouraging the use of weapons at various points and generally avoiding physical altercations, it also shows him appearing to encourage one-on-one fist fights between members of Patriot Prayer and Antifa,” Immergut wrote.

She notes that Gibson advocates “mutual combat,” despite someone telling him that’s illegal.

“When Gibson notices a fist fight breaking out between two men, he immediately runs over and instructs the crowd to put weapons away and ‘let them fight’ because it is ‘mutual combat.’” Immergut wrote. “When someone near Gibson tells him that ‘mutual combat’ is not legal he responds, ‘oh, you’re for the law? … I’m talking about morals … No one jump in, no one jump in … Let the men handle it.’

“Gibson helps form a circle around the fight as he continues to narrate it, saying repeatedly, ‘this is the way it’s supposed to be, two men fighting.’” Immergut wrote. “When one of the men appears to step back from the fight, Gibson shouts at him, ‘Oh, he’s out. He’s out. You out? You quitting or are you in? Let’s go. It’s you two, let’s go.’”

“The physical altercations between plaintiffs’ group and Antifa continued to escalate until one of plaintiffs’ associates allegedly knocked a woman unconscious,” Immergut wrote.

Gibson’s trial is currently scheduled to begin on March 8.

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