For a month, a collection of right-wing extremists has been drumming up enthusiasm and money for a trip to Portland to antagonize left-wing protesters and raise the profile of white nationalism.
You might think a double homicide would put a damper on those plans.
In the wake of the May 26 slaying of two men on a Portland MAX train, and the reported murder confession of a local white supremacist, the determination to hold a "free speech" rally in downtown Portland this Sunday has only grown. Members of the extremist movement known as the "alt-right" have redoubled their calls for donations and attendance.
Even as Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler futilely attempted to cancel the event, a broad coalition of local activists has asked Portlanders to join them in arriving at Terry Schrunk Plaza tomorrow to stand against the alt-right rally. Police and local officials are on edge, warning they will take aggressive action to stop violent conflict in the streets.
The backdrop for much of this rage can be traced to Berkeley, Calif., where on March 4 a standoff between the alt-right and antifascist groups turned into a bloody melee. That riot made some alt-right figures into online celebrities—including Kyle Chapman, who became famous in such circles for hitting antifa protesters with a large stick and is the guest of honor at the Portland rally tomorrow.
The looming violence became hideously real on May 26, when Jeremy Joseph Christian—a Portland man who spent much of his adult life in prison and identified with the alt-right movement—killed two men who tried to stop his racist and Islamaphobic harassment of two teenage girls on a MAX train.
Those killings have shocked and halted the city. But they have not discouraged alt-right leadership, which continued crowdfunding its Portland trip while scrambling to claim Christian had no ties to the right wing.
The Vancouver, Wash. video blogger Joey Gibson, who organized a "free speech" march in April that Christian attended, is organizing Sunday's event. Gibson disavowed any affiliation with Christian, but he also declined to call off the rally after the killings.
Others have escalated their rhetoric.
On June 1, Chapman went on Twitter and declared "open season on antifa." Twitter removed the message.
A 29-year-old man named Tim Gionet, aka "Baked Alaska," who has become perhaps the nation's most notorious alt-right troll, and whose anti-Semitic tweets got him barred from an inauguration gala, has spent the last week soliciting donations.
"Tomorrow we go to Portland to defend free speech & say no to communist Antifa," he wrote on June 1. "Any help is really appreciated."
The Guardian newspaper this week published a who's-who guide to the the agitators expected in Terry Schrunk Plaza tomorrow. It's worth a close read.
At least one of the men listed won't be attending, however. Mike Tokes, a self-described journalist who attends alt-right events nationwide to collect material for online propaganda campaigns, said Friday he was dropping out of the Portland event—because of a dispute with Baked Alaska.
All of this online drama appears absurd—as will the rally itself, which is likely to draw a crowd of burly men in biker jackets, MAGA hats and in some cases, gas masks.
But the intimidation felt by this city's minority communities is real. So is the potential for violent clashes with antifa—baiting the left wing into brawls has been the top priority of the alt-right at every event they've organized.
Gregory McKelvey is the organizer of the protest movement Portland's Resistance, which led six nights of marches after Donald Trump's election last November. Today he posted an essay asking Portlanders, including police, to stand against the alt-right.
"Now that it has become clear that Donald Trump's federal government is not going to revoke the permit and that Joey [Gibson] is going to stand his ground, there is only one possible outcome," McKelvey writes. "We call on The Portland Police to do the right thing and police the alt-right crowd as if it were a crowd of marginalized communities simply protesting for progress."
Tomorrow is also likely to see a large turnout from the left wing. Groups ranging from antifa to organized labor have pledged to arrive downtown at 12:30 pm to surround the right-wing extremists.
Vahid Brown, an organizer of the largest Portland demonstration—called Portland Stands United Against Hate—posted a message from the planning committee on Facebook, noting that at least one family member of a MAX slaying victim asked for all protests to be cancelled.
But the group is proceeding anyway.
"Let us be clear: the recent string of attacks are acts of terrorism," Brown writes. "They seek to intimidate us into submission so that our message of solidarity cannot be heard. On this basis, and with deep respect to the families of all victims involved, the Portland Stands United Against Hate rally will proceed, as planned."
Mayor Wheeler has abandoned efforts to quash the events. Instead, he says the alt-right will be met by an aggressive police presence—and a display of "peace and unity" messages projected onto a nearby building with the help of Chris Lejeune, the brother of stabbing victim Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche.