Thursday, June 15, 2017

June 4th Portland's Pro-Trump Free Speech Rally and Counter-protests

Antifa and Anarchists filled the Chapman square. Portland Labor in construction helmets in the foreground

As I stood sketching the Chapman square an old man walked to the corner of Madison and 4th Ave in downtown Portland, looked at several thousand people gathered there with signs, banners, and face masks and asked no one in particular: “So, which ones here are the Nazis?” Indeed, for the uninitiated, the question seemed appropriate – for all of the angry faces, chants, and raised fists it was not always to tell who was on whose side.

A lot of tension filled the air leading up to the June 4th rally in Downtown Portland where pro-Trump Free Speech Rally was organized by a group called Patriot Prayer. Its organizer Joey Gibson who lives in Vancouver, WA has put together similar rallies in other places in his effort to take West Coast back by conservatives.

This event was scheduled to take place only a week after the fatal stabbing tragedy on a Max train in NE Portland. The rally drew some of the right-wing out-of-town celebrities but came at a time when Portland was still grieving and coming to terms with the tragic incident. Portland's mayor Ted Wheeler tried to cancel the rally, unsuccessfully–the permit for the pro-Trump rally was issued by the federal government.

Sketching the June 4th rallies

Not one but three simultaneous counter-protests were scheduled to take place at the same time. Emotions spiked by online comments and threats were running so rampant that hundreds of police on anti-riot gear were called in to form a thick physical barrier between the opposing sides.

So much was happening all at once –I tried to take it all in. First things first, a bike cop in full anti-riot gear. I asked him all he was carrying with him. "50 pounds of grenade launchers, FN303, a giant pack of disposable handcuffs, tear gas, pepper spray… "
When I arrived in the late morning the Chapman square was already filled with antifa and anarchists in their signature black hoodies, with faces covered by black handkerchiefs. They were holding anti-nazi signs, drumming and chanting anti-fascist, anti-police slogans.

Pro-Trump rally was scheduled to take place at the Terry Schrunk plaza starting at 2pm–almost directly across from the Multnomah county jail where Jeremy Christian–the alleged Trimet stabber is held on murder charges. He was known to hang out at the events organized by Joey Gibson before. For that reason the Free Speech rally organizers tried hard to emphasize that he was not part of their cause.

Portland Stands United Against Hate is facing off with the Trump crowd in the background. Police is in the middle separating the two sides. One of the signs reads: "Whose Useful Idiot are You?"

Immediately to the West of Terry Schrunk and next to the City Hall a rally called “Portland Stands United Against Hate” took place. It featured speeches and banners dedicated to Black Lives Matter, LGBT and Latino communities, among others.

One of the counter-protestor groups–Portland Stands United Against Hate–in front of the City Hall

Finally, to the East of the square Portland Labor movement organized its own rally. Their people dressed in construction workers' helmets and vests read the names of black men killed by the police and  projected anti-nazi, pro-immigrant slogans into the megaphones.

Police in heavy anti-riot gear encircled the site of the free speech rally, which was also taped off with yellow hazard tape. Over the loud speakers the protestors heard the following message over and over again: “This is Portland Police Bureau. If there is any violence on either side it will be treated as a criminal act.”

In the center of it all, in the sunlit Terry Schunck plaza gathered the supporters of the current president. Some of them were wearing super-hero or gladiator style costumes and helmets, holding "Made America Great Again" campaign style signs and signature red MAGA baseball hats, and flying many kinds of flags–the traditional stars and stripes, a purple Trump flag, a yellow "Don't Tread on me" Gadsden flag, and at least one green Pepe flag.

Police standing as a barrier between the pro-Trump rally (pictured on top right) and the counter protestors

Heavily armed police in special vehicles created a war zone impression, whereas people dressed in super-hero costumes and helmets contributed to an impression of some crazy comicon convention gone wrong.

There was a heavy dose of Portlandia in all of it as well. Some of the anti-riot police carrying FN33 and flash grenade launchers were on bikes. Some protestors distributed ice-cream and fresh strawberries out of giant tupperware containers. At one point I saw a man dressed in red spandex with butterfly antennas fluttering among angry protestors with his magic wand singing: “de-escalation is the key.” On the corner of 4th and Madison, a fixture at many of Portland's protests, the band "Unpresidented" was cheering the crowd with their fantastic music. 

As time went on the intensity of chants from all sides grew in volume. A screaming match here and there would get out of hand. Police periodically confiscated a stick and detain, typically someone from the Antifa side. The counter-protestors started to voice concerns that the police was siding with the pro-Trump rally, unfairly targeting the counter-protestors. 

Around 3:30 we heard the first flash grenades shake the ground and fill the Champman square where Antifa was protesting with gas and smoke. People started running–some closer to the site of the explosions. The Chapman square was cleared and counter-protestors were pushed further south. Some of them were temporarily detained, while the police searched their bags for weapons. I later learned that 14 arrests were made. Fortunately, no one suffered any injuries. 

The man who seemed most approachable was this guy standing in the crowd and holding a bright flower. He introduced himself as Ibrahim Mubarak. He represented the homeless and was there to talk about decriminalization of homeless in Portland

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