Political violence on the streets of downtown Portland as Antifa battles Patriot Prayer Group

It was a perfect Portlandia moment last night, as street fighting between left and right wing political groups was powered by the contents of recycling bins. Willamette Week noted:

The two groups threw glass bottles and aluminum cans pulled from recycling bins along the waterfront….

The two groups were the neofascist group calling itself Antifa, which attacked a rally of a group calling itself Patriot Prayer.  As best I can tell, neither group had a permit, and the fact that the Portland Rose Festival (Portland calls itself “the city of roses”) was underway downtown meant that the police had their hands full.

 Oregon Live reports:

Dueling demonstrations faced off Sunday in downtown Portland, marking the first large street protest of the spring.

The rallies drew hundreds to a pair of parks near City Hall, including right-wing Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson of Vancouver, his supporters and counter-protesters, including black-clad antifascists, known as antifa.

The rallies began peacefully and escalated with shoving, a small bonfire on the antifa side of the gatherings and punches thrown. Portland police stepped in to quell the fights and asked people to stay away from the area as Patriot Prayer supporters started marching.

Portland police said officers with the Federal Protective Service and a Multnomah County sheriff's deputy used pepper spray twice, when when protesters fought. Demonstrators used pepper spray too, police said, and some threw fireworks, bottles, rocks and ball bearings at each other.

Police escort Patriot Prayer Group (photo: Joshua McCracken, Twitter)

As with Oregon Live, Willamette Week reported from a perspective of mutual responsibility for the violence, but engaged in a few sneers here and there at the “alt.right.” Elise Herron writes:

Clad in American flags and garish hats, nearly 100 members of the Vancouver, Wash.-based right-wing protest group Patriot Prayer started sparring with black-clad Antifa counter protesters at Terry Shrunk Plaza around 5 pm today.

The fight comes almost a year to the day after the largest and most chaotic of the standoffs between the two groups, who have regularly behaved more like street gangs than political movements.

That massive confrontation on June 4, 2017 came a week after a brutal stabbing on a Portland MAX train. Everyday Portlanders far outnumbered visiting alt-right celebrities, and the day amounted to a civic refutation of the right-wing extremism that seemed to have fueled the double slaying. (It also raised questions and sparked a lawsuit over the legality of the police response.)

Today's clash is far smaller—no more than 300 people combined. And it represents a reunion of sorts for Patriot Prayer and Antifa, who haven't met in several months.

However, the only details she supplies indicate one-sided violence:

Police later chased down and detained a man dressed in black after a family of Trump supporters flagged officers and told them he had assaulted the family's father and youngest daughter.

Daniel Adams, who lives in Astoria but says he grew up in Portland, says his family was attacked within minutes of arriving at the protest around 5 pm. He says his family came not to protest anything, but to say goodbye to their friend, Toese.

"I grew up here," he says. " I have a lot of pride for this town and it's unfortunate what it's turned into."

A purple bruise was still swelling above his right eye as he recounted his daughter being struck repeatedly by counterprotesters. He says he tried to pull her away and the masked protesters hit him several times in the face and body.

Adams, who came to the protest in an American flag tie and a Trump-Pence hat, says police watched the assault but did not intervene until it had ended, a tactic Portland police often use at protests.

About two hours later, as Adams walked with his wife and eldest daughter, the family saw the group who they say attacked them. Two boys who were skateboarding near the courthouse say they saw the group of masked protesters change clothes and then run from police.

An officer stopped the man who had been detained by pulling out a taser and ordering him to lay down on the sidewalk near the steps of the Multnomah County Courthouse. An officer at the scene said the man was detained pending an investigation of assault.

The man repeatedly told officers he had not attacked anyone as they zip tied his hands behind his back.

I wasn’t there, so I can’t assess blame. But I agree with Herron that political violence recurring in our streets is not a sign of political health. However, there seems a moral difference between a group holding a rally and a group attacking the rally to shut it down.  One thing I do insist on, however, is to stop calling Antifa “anti-fascist.” They are neofascists, quite plainly using violence to attack their political enemies and shut down speech with which they disagree.

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