PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Hundreds of far-right protesters and anti-fascist counter-demonstrators swarmed downtown Portland, Oregon in the United States (US), last Saturday for a long-hyped rally that attracted US President Donald Trump’s attention and resulted in at least 13 arrests.
Police seized metal poles, bear spray and other weapons and closed bridges and streets to try to keep the rival groups apart. They were largely successful. Six minor injuries were reported.
“This was a dynamic event with demonstrators frequently moving from one part of the city to another,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said at an evening news conference.
Leaders of the right-wing groups vowed to return to Portland, saying they would keep coming back to the liberal West Coast city so long as the left-wing antifascists, known as antifa, groups remained active.
President Donald Trump weighed in last Saturday, writing on Twitter that “Portland is being watched very closely… Hopefully the Mayor will be able to properly do his job.”
He also wrote that “major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an ‘ORGANISATION of TERROR’”. It was not immediately clear what he meant by that because there’s no mechanism for the US government to declare a domestic organisation a terror group.
Organiser of the right-wing gathering Joe Biggs said it was a success.
“Go look at President Trump’s Twitter,” he told The Oregonian/OregonLive. “He talked about Portland, said he’s watching antifa. That’s all we wanted.”
At the evening news conference Portland’s mayor said Biggs was not welcome. “We do not want him here in my city. Period,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler tied the demonstrations to “a rising white nationalist movement” and a growing sense of fear in the country.
“We’re certainly seeing that play out,” he said. “Portland being a very progressive community is always going to be at or near ground zero of this battle.”
The events began late Saturday morning. Flag-waving members of the Proud Boys, Three Percenters militia group and others gathered downtown, some wearing body armour and helmets like the antifa protesters. Police said they had seized the weapons, including shields, from multiple groups as they assembled along the Willamette River, which runs through the city.
Over two dozen local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, were in the city for the right-wing rally. Portland Police said all of the city’s 1,000 officers would be on duty for the gathering that was hyped on social media and elsewhere for weeks.
As of early afternoon, most of the right-wing groups had left the area via a downtown bridge. Police used officers on bikes and in riot gear to keep black-clad, mask-wearing anti-fascist protesters from following them.
But hundreds of people remained downtown and on nearby streets, and there were skirmishes throughout the day. Police declared a gathering of mostly left-wing protesters near Pioneer Courthouse Square a “civil disturbance” and told people to leave.
Police spokeswoman Lieutenant Tina Jones at one point said there were about 1,200 on the streets, but that number fell throughout the day.
The self-described anti-fascists had vowed to confront the right-wing rally, while leaders from the far right urged their followers to turn out in large numbers to protest the arrests of six members of right-wing groups in the run-up to the event.