Right-wing extremists in Oregon, who accompanied a caravan of several hundred President Trump's supporters on Monday, drove from a suburb of Portland to Salem, the capital, where some members of the group fought with left-wing activists.
The clash, which appeared to result in no serious injuries but resulted in at least two arrests, was the most recent between Trump supporters in Oregon and protesters opposed to police brutality and racially motivated violence.
Confrontations between opposing sides – sometimes linked to Proud Boys or Black Lives Matter – in Portland resulted in the fatal shooting on August 29 of a supporter of a right-wing group of Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer.
At the start of the caravan near Portland, a Proud Boys leader portrayed the organization, classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, as a fraternal association providing security for Trump events.
In the parking lot of a community college in Oregon City, southeast of Portland, several hundred Trump supporters and law enforcement supporters had gathered for the trailer.
Many in the crowd wore T-shirts to commemorate Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a right-wing Patriot Prayer supporter, who was fatally shot in Portland on August 29 after a truck caravan collided with left-wing protesters. The organizers of the Oregon for Trump 2020 Labor Day Cruise Rally on Monday kept their route a secret but said they would not migrate to town like last time.
A leader in Proud Boys, a group that has repeatedly argued with antifa activists in Portland and other cities, used the festive launch event as an outreach opportunity and tried to give the organization a friendlier face. He said the group is a brotherhood of men of various races and backgrounds, many of whom are Christians.
"If you haven't had a chance to meet a proud boy, now is a good time to do so because we're here for you, we've always been there for you," said Flipp Todd, the organization's vice president in Portland, Den Participants in the caravan during a brief conversation that caused cheers. "We will keep fighting for you if you ever need security. We always put up a wall for you to make sure your events are safe."
Also speaking in memory of Danielson, Joey Gibson, founder of Patriot Prayer, said, "He is not a victim and we are not a victim."
Flipp Todd, vice president of Proud Boys in Portland, said its members visited the pro-Trump caravan to support attendees.
(Richard Read / Los Angeles Times)
Portland is a town on the fringes of Danielson's assassination and the fatal shooting by a federal refugee team in Washington state, Michael Forest Reinoehl, who is suspected of gunning down Danielson. Black Lives Matter protesters celebrated their 100th night of demonstration on Saturday with a march blocked by police who released tear gas after Molotov cocktails were thrown.
Much of the city is peaceful and protests take place in limited areas outside of police stations and government buildings. Residents jogged, picnicked and barbecued on Monday like any other work day – apart from closed shops and restaurants that operate under coronavirus restrictions.
However, many in Portland say that while they share the protesters' desires for social justice and reform, they are appalled by the violence of the protest and troubled by the increasing presence of right-wing activists.
"The protests were hijacked by groups unrelated to Black Lives Matter," said Michel McDonald, 74, a retired black military pilot. He said that while he had spent 20 years in the military "so that people could have rights like freedom of speech," he found the Trump rally dangerously provocative in the face of recent violence.
Mike Lindberg, a progressive community leader and former Portland City Council member, said the nighttime scenes of people making fires and throwing objects at police officers have become fodder for the Trump campaign. "People might as well be wearing a MAGA hat if they damage things and injure police officers in Portland," said Lindberg, who is white.
He said city leaders had failed to limit acceptable behavior and instructed police to use undercover agents to separate agitators from peaceful protesters. At this point, it would be best to call in the National Guard, said Lindberg, 79, who added that it pained him to say this as he recalled guards who fatally shot at Kent State University antiwar protesters in 1970.
Mac Smiff, a lawyer journalist who participated in the protests, declined to object to editors and leaders of the white community who believed the demonstrations should stop. The protests will continue as long as calls for initial budget cuts of $ 50 million, changes in policing and other reforms have not been met, said Smiff, who is black.
"We're not going home because the problem is bigger than ever," said Smiff. "You have a Democratic governor and mayor who allows an old-right terrorist group to come here and help the police."
Lakayana Drury, executive director of Word is Bond, a Portland nonprofit that develops leadership skills among young black men, said he was disappointed that tolerance for protests had waned in a notoriously progressive city. The Trump rally continues to dismay black residents, he said.
"For people of color, seeing a Trump flag can be threatening," said Drury, who is black.
But when the caravan started, participants said it was about promoting unity.
"You always have extremists on both sides," said Lauri Berg, 51, who is white. "We are trying to unite the country in a common message of prosperity and development."