Portland police, braced for possible violent clashes, manned barricades and metal detectors downtown Saturday ahead of a “freedom march” by the right-wing group Patriot Prayer and counter-protests by anti-fascist groups in their third face-off in two months.
The event also comes ahead of the one-year anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August that deteriorated into clashes between protesters and counter-protesters that left one person dead.
Police warned via Twitter that no one carrying a rifle, shotgun or other long-gun in Tom McCall park, site of the rally. the statement, citing emergency safety statutes, pointedly included people with valid Oregon concealed handgun licenses.
Police also said that any item, such as flag pole, or homemade shield, that could be used as a weapon, will be confiscated.
“I continue to strongly reject the idea that violence or hate speech are legitimate means to a political end,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said on the eve of the event, adding that he and the Portland police chief “have serious concerns about the potential for violence” at the events.
The march, planned for months, has been organized by Joey Gibson, leader of the Patriot Prayer group, and a long-shot Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in the state of Washington.
It comes five weeks after clashes between left and right on June 30 in which both sides, including masked anti-fascist groups, battled in downtown Portland, pummeling and striking each other. Police declared the event a riot and revoked rally permits.
A similar Patriot Prayer event on June 4 devolved into fistfights and assaults by both sides as police struggled to keep the groups apart.
Gibson said in a live video on Facebook earlier this week that he won’t stop bringing his followers to Portland until they can express their right-wing views without interference.
“I refuse to do what Portland wants me to do because what Portland wants me to do is to shut up and never show up again,” he said. “So yeah, I refuse to do that, but I will not stop going in, and I will not stop pushing, and I will not stop marching until the people of Portland realize that and realize that their methods do not work,” he said.
Patriot demonstrators planned to travel to Portland via bus from Vancouver, Washington, according to the event’s Facebook page.
For Saturday’s march, Gibson said the rally would convene at the Salmon Street Springs water fountain at Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland.
The park location for Saturday’s rally would allow the “Freedom March” participants to carry guns, according to The Oregonian.
The Facebook post also warned marchers not to wear anything that identifies them as part of the Patriot Prayer organization. “Wear normal clothing and get to Salmon Street Springs from the multiple different ways in,” the message read.
A broad counterprotest organized by a coalition of labor unions, immigrant rights groups and artists also will gather at City Hall before the Gibson rally. Organizers say that while Patriot Prayer denies being a white supremacist group, it affiliates itself with known white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazi gangs.
In addition, self-described anti-fascists – or “antifa” – have been organizing anonymously online to confront Patriot Prayer and an affiliated group, the Proud Boys, in the streets.
The Facebook page for Resist Patriot Prayer: Violent Alt-Right Bigots Off Our Streets,” the group said it is willing to use physical force if necessary against “Joey and his Alt Right goons.”
“History has shown that militant resistance is a necessary and important tool in the fight against fascism,” the event page said. “We make no apologies for the use of force in keeping our communities safe from the scourge of right-wing violence. Make no mistake, these people are coming here with the intent to harm and threaten people.”
Effie Baum, a spokesperson with Popular Mobilization, said her group was formed solely to mobilize counter-protesters for Saturday, OregonLive reports.
“One thing we all have in common is our opposition to white supremacy, transphobia and homophobia,” said Baum said, according to OregonLive.
“Patriot Prayer is continuing to commit violence in our city, and their events are becoming more and more violent,” she said. “Leaving them a small group to attack in the streets is only going to allow them to perpetuate their violence.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
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