Portland's leftist protesters are warring with Mayor Ted Wheeler and the Portland Police Bureau in the wake of clashes between antifascist protesters and cops during a Sept. 10 waterfront demonstration.
The organizer of the far-right protest that day says setting off violence between antifa and police was the whole idea.
Joey Gibson, the leader of Vancouver, Wash. extremist group Patriot Prayer, says whether antifa protesters brawl with his supporters or just clash with police, it's a "win-win" for the far right.
He admits to what has become an increasingly obvious strategy for right-wing street agitators across the West Coast: They show up to goad leftists into a fury, then let them fight police while TV cameras roll.
"We have to expose antifa and expose the hatred," Gibson says. "We want that on camera. We want people to see that."
The strategy isn't exactly novel: It follows a right-wing pattern in Portland since at least April, when a rumor of white supremacists marching in a parade inspired an anonymous letter threatening violence.
But it appears to mark a shift for Gibson and his Vancouver group, who talked last month of taking a unifying approach—at least until Gibson's ill-fated trip to Berkeley, Calif., where attacks by antifascist protesters earned antifa a rebuke by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
That shift in the political landscape, coupled with antifa's sudden national notoriety as a left-wing boogeyman, gave Gibson an opportunity.
"I think Berkeley woke people up," he says.
However, a few hours before counter-protesters chased Gibson out of the Berkeley protest, Gibson told the Portland State Vanguard that Patriot Prayer's goal was to "unite moderates."
"We can't just go from city to city just rallying," Gibson told reporters in Berkeley. "Even the word 'rally' I don't like because it just sounds like getting a bunch of people who think the same way to be like, 'Let's go get 'em,' and so I want to get away from that."
Four days later, Gibson abandoned this rhetoric and told his followers in a Facebook live stream that "exposing antifa" was his goal in California all along.
It certainly appeared to be the strategy in Portland last weekend, where only a handful of Patriot Prayer supporters set foot in downtown, leaving police and antifa to fight each other. Video of violent arrests has dominated the Portland news cycle since Sunday—with some attention going to the driver in Vancouver who sped his car toward a crowd of antifa protesters. (Police let him go.)
While his supporters continue to frequently engage in street fights with counterprotesters, it's hard to view his movement as peaceful.
"I understand the criticism," Gibson says.
Despite his recent emphasis on nonviolence in speeches and his move to keep his supporters from fighting in downtown Portland on Sunday, Gibson says he still stands by his supporters who get in fights out of "self-defense."
"I do believe in your God-given right to self defense," Gibson says. "That's why I carry concealed carry. That's why I love the Second Amendment. I love self defense."