Portland, Ore., is gearing up for a set of dueling rallies this weekend that is expected to bring an informal coalition of right-wing groups– some of which have been decried as white nationalists and white supremacists– and so-called anti-fascists, who have violently opposed these right-wing demonstrators.
Portland’s so-called “Antifa” members have issued an online call to followers to turn out to “defend Portland from a far-Right attack.”
Portland’s Rose City Antifa, the nation’s oldest active anti-fascist group, said violence against right-wing demonstrators is “exactly what should happen when the far-right attempts to invade our town.”
This time police and city leaders are more alarmed than usual.
“We’ve been sitting on a powder keg and everything is kind of coming to a head at this point,” Police Chief Danielle Outlaw told The Oregonian/OregonLive in an interview this week. “Not just because of what’s happening locally, but nationally.”
Portland leaders are planning a major law enforcement presence on the heels of similar rallies in June and last summer that turned violent, and the recent hate-driven shooting in El Paso, Texas. None of the city’s nearly 1,000 police officers will have the day off, and Portland will get help from the Oregon State Police and the FBI. Mayor Ted Wheeler has said he may ask Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, to call up the Oregon National Guard.
Experts who track right-wing militias and hate groups warn that the mix of people heading to Portland also came together for a Unite the Right rally in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, which ended when a participant rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring 19.
The “End To Domestic Terrorism” rally seeks to draw like-minded people from around the country to Tom McCall Waterfront Park as a show of force against antifa.
Participants plan to decry a June 29 attack against conservative writer Andy Ngo by black-clad demonstrators in Portland, video of which racked up millions of views online and generated days of national headlines.
They also back a U.S. Senate resolution to label antifa members as “domestic terrorists” sponsored by Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who cited the assault and accused Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler of prohibiting police from arresting “left-wing anarchists.”
Rose City Antifa, Portland’s homegrown, amorphous band of anti-fascist activists, is calling on supporters to turn out in opposition to the rally. The use of physical force isn’t out of the question.
“We will not allow Portland to be a playground for far-right violence,” said a Rose City spokesman who identified himself only by the first name David. “We will not shy away from defending the city or ourselves.”
As the left- and right-wing clashes continue, Mayor Ted Wheeler acknowledges Portland’s protest tradition as a robust form of political expression. But he believes it’s been co-opted lately by people more interested in simply causing trouble than having any cogent discourse.
And in picking a fight with antifa, they’ll get one.
“I think they come to Portland because it gives them a platform,” he said this week. “They know that if they come here conflict is almost guaranteed.”
The police chief said that protesters bent on violence may feel emboldened to return to Portland after seeing scenes captured from past protests showing bloody beatings occurring without immediate police intervention.
“It’s given a perception that we’re hands-off, and we’ve let the tail wag the dog,’’ Outlaw said.
In response, Wheeler and Outlaw have promised a larger turnout by police Aug. 17 and vowed to use the full force of the law against those who commit acts of violence and vandalism. City officials have been working with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to secure the officers and equipment necessary to respond, Outlaw said.
The mayor and chief also have gone on video and given interviews, pledging to do what it takes to keep the city safe during the demonstration and urged trouble-seeking participants to stay away from Portland.
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