Thirteen people were arrested and six people were injured, with one requiring hospitalization, after a day of protests in Portland Saturday. The Portland Police Bureau, several other local and national law enforcement agencies, and civic organizations and leaders throughout the city had spent weeks preparing for much worse. It was their stated mission to protect members of the right-wing group, Proud Boys, and left-wing Antifa protesters, from each other by keeping them separate. For the most part, they succeeded. However, the Proud Boys have already warned they’ll be back.
The Proud Boys, Three Percenters militia group, and others gathered downtown, ostensibly to protest Antifa’s continued, tolerated existence by the city. Joey Gibson, leader of Vancouver-based right-wing group Patriot Prayer, was also there, fresh off a Friday booking in the Multnomah County jail on riot charges. President Trump also made an appearance in spirit, or at least on Twitter. “Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an ‘ORGANIZATION OF TERROR,’” he tweeted Saturday. “Portland is being watched very closely. Hopefully the Mayor will be able to properly do his job!” Both sides, left and right, seemed to relish the attention.
Police said they seized several weapons, including metal poles, bear spray, and shields from groups of demonstrators. More than 700 law enforcement officers from two dozen agencies worked crowd control, giving both groups considerable leeway to move about the city, so long as they didn’t find each other. The crowd, which numbered more than 1,200 at one point, dissipated considerably by 3:00 PM. Just before 4:00, frustrated Antifa supporters threw water bottles at police and blocked traffic, prompting the officers to declare the event a “civil disturbance.” Minor skirmishes ensued between members of both groups, which were quickly jumped on by right-wing outlets.
In the postgame news conference, Mayor Ted Wheeler thanked police for keeping the event largely nonviolent, and blasted the event’s Florida-based organizer for causing the disruption in the first place. “When we have people like Joe Biggs say that they will come here every single month until we do whatever it is they think we should be doing,” Wheeler said, “these types of demonstrations and the response cost millions of dollars. They’re misusing public taxpayer resources, and I hope they think about that.” Police Chief Danielle Outlaw also rejected claims, from the far- and mainstream left, that PPB was showing preferential treatment to the Proud Boys by allowing them to leave. “We did not show preferential treatment, but rather facilitated de-escalation of potential conflict.”
“Little Beirut” has a long and infamous history of contentious, often non-permitted protest. Since Trump’s election almost three years ago, Portland has also served as ground zero for the apparent Weimar Republic reenactment scene. Many feared Saturday’s long-anticipated (or dreaded) event might serve as a tipping point for the weird, but largely peaceful city. A crossing of the Rubicon, as it were. However, it was the protesters themselves who crossed the Willamette, physically kept on opposite sides, and more than a mile apart, by the police. It was a victory for overwhelming resources. However, this scene can’t become the new normal. If Proud Boys’ threats are serious, Portland will have to find new ways to keep the peace, and the opposing groups set on violence, apart. The city literally can’t afford a repeat of Saturday.