PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – At a rally Saturday, police appeared to have coordinated extensively with the national leadership of the Proud Boys, a far-right fraternity designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.
On Saturday afternoon, a truck holding the national leaders of the Proud Boys, a far-right club founded to promote “western” values and male chauvinism, rolled up to a Portland Police check point. It was one of dozens of big trucks leaving Delta Park in North Portland, where a crowd of several hundred made up of Proud Boys, militia groups and supporters from around the country had just rallied for hours. The event featured sporadic violence, copious American flags and speakers railing against local antifascist protesters.
In the truck’s passenger seat was a Proud Boy who declined to share his name. He held a can of bear spray ready to use on passersby, the safety pin removed.
“I didn’t get to spray anyone today,” he complained. He put the pin back in the can as the truck neared the police checkpoint.
The driver of the truck, Travis Nugent, addressed two Portland Police officers standing there.
“When are y’all taking the patches off and just gonna fuck these motherfuckers up together?” he asked, referring to local antifascists who’ve spent four months in Portland’s streets, protesting police brutality. The officers grinned and laughed. “Whenever you’re ready,” Nugent added. “Love you guys.”
The truck carried Proud Boys National Chairman Enrique Tarrio and Joe Biggs, an organizer of Saturday’s event and former Infowars staffer, along with leaders of local Proud Boys chapters.
A few hundred feet down the road, Oregon State Police had stopped a teal Toyota Tundra.
“Sucks to be you!” Tarrio yelled at the stopped driver from the back of Nugent’s truck.
State police said in a tweet that they had issued a citation to the stopped driver in the teal truck, because his license plates were obscured. Nugent, too, had removed the license plates from his truck, and recommended the move to the dozens of Proud Boys who met that morning at a staging area in the parking lot of the Vancouver Mall.
As he sped past the stopped teal truck, Nugent grabbed his Washington plates from under the dashboard and held them aloft.
“What license plates?” he yelled.
Oregon state troopers just looked on.
It was just one of several examples of apparent friendly coordination with event leaders that was in evidence on Saturday.
Two weeks ago, as wildfires raged in Oregon, armed men set up checkpoints in Corbett, Oregon, as baseless rumors swirled claiming that “antifa” had started the fires. The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office announced days later that it had cited three men involved with setting up the checkpoints.
“We told people engaging in this behavior that roadways are open to all users, and that their actions are illegal,” Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese said at the time.
On Saturday, private militias set up their own checkpoint on the road leading into Delta Park. The men at the checkpoint declined to share their names, but they did rail at length against taxes, immigration and antifa. They said they were there to repel “antifa.” And they stopped journalists, questioning them about their affiliations before allowing them to enter the park.
But this checkpoint didn’t seem to concern law enforcement. Police cruisers drove by the men several times, offering a wave or a peace sign.
And when counterprotesters tried to enter the rally, crowds confronted them, yelling in their faces and chasing them out of the park. In one instance, four police liaison officers tried to broker peace, but mostly the scuffles were allowed to play out.
Standing on the park’s perimeter, Jim McMurray, a sergeant with the Portland Police Bureau, said cops were unlikely to intervene.
“They’ll police themselves,” McMurray said of the crowd of several hundred Proud Boys and their supporters.
Rally organizers said they had coordinated via phone, email and in-person meetings with local police and federal authorities.
Biggs told Courthouse News that he was in touch with the FBI about other private militia groups who, according to The Guardian, had discussed violently confronting counterprotesters at Saturday’s rally.
“They’re not with us,” Biggs said when asked the people mentioned in the article. “We met with the FBI today. We said if they see people there to point them out and we will expel them. There are people who will come to this event because it’s public and use that to express their violent fantasies. But that doesn’t reflect on us or on our values.”
FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele neither confirmed nor denied that claim, saying in an email that the bureau was working to avoid violence at Saturday’s planned rally.
“Those efforts take many forms, but we will not discuss the specifics of investigative or operational matters,” Steele wrote.
And Tarrio, as well as several other Proud Boys, told Courthouse News that local police had emailed the group with guidelines on where to park, which roads to take, and even advising them that there would be no bathroom at Delta Park (though by Saturday, two clean porta-potties had appeared).
That morning, Nugent’s truck led a caravan of Proud Boy vehicles, many sans license plates, from Vancouver Mall to the entrance of Delta Park. Then, a state trooper patrol car pulled out in front to guide the caravan into the park – despite the fact that the city had denied the Proud Boys’ permit to hold their rally there, saying the rally was contrary to efforts to limit the spread of Covid-19.
Saturday’s rally ended in the afternoon with no serious violence. Tarrio and Biggs had declared the event a victory before it even began, pointing to Gov. Kate Brown’s declaration of a state of emergency and the temporary lifting of a tear gas ban imposed by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler as evidence.
Biggs also said the Proud Boys’ communication with authorities had been a win.
“We’ve talked to state and federal law enforcement for every event we do,” Biggs said. “The feds say, ‘you’re the only group out there that’s willing to sit down and tell us stuff.’ They know every move we do before we do it because we tell them.”