On Saturday morning, Vancouver, Wash.-based right-wing vlogger Joey Gibson stood near the center line of the astroturfed Timbers futsal field in Portland's Montavilla Park as people in leather biker vests, camouflage and body armor filled in around him.
Today, he said, they were here "because antifa shut down the parade because we were going to march."
Gibson and his group have been traveling up and down the West Coast in fights with anti-fascists—or antifa—in a political street war that most famously erupted into bloody brawls in Berkeley. The prospect of that violence breaking out in Portland so alarmed civic leaders that they cancelled the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade, an annual celebration for the polyglot communities of East Portland.
Video by Mike Bivins
Yet the white nationalists and masked vigilantes that so frightened Portland turned out to number no more than 250 people, all of them loud but few of them willing to defy the Portland Police officers who supervised them and shepherded them onto TriMet buses when they got tired.
The event that garnered so much national attention was vastly outnumbered by a peaceful climate change march in Northeast Portland, where more than 1,000 people gathered.
But the damage was done: an East Portland parade beloved by families and immigrant groups was cancelled by an anonymous threat to attack the Republican Party float if it harbored members of the "alt-right."
What remained in place of the parade was a flotsam of fringe right-wing web celebrities and bandanna-sporting leftists trailing in their wake.
Gibson led the crowd of flag-waving protesters down Southeast 82nd Avenue, walking from Montavilla Park and down the two-mile parade route. The crowd followed him, waving Trump flags and Gadsden flags, wearing Make America Great Again hats, walking dogs and shouting across the four-lane road at a dozen counter protesters, who honked fluorescent plastic whistles incessantly on the other side of the street. Between them, police SUVs and vehicles loaded with riot cops followed.
The march erupted into minor scuffles along the route: Once, a man wearing a shirt with the face of a jack-o-lantern was hauled away in cuffs. When a man wearing an American flag as a cape egged on counter protesters in a Chevron station parking lot, police formed a circle around him.
Video by Mike Bivins
In the afternoon sun, the marchers grew weary as they walked for two-and-a-half miles, and Gibson—in a tight white shirt that read "Land of the Free, Home of the Brave"—cheered them on: a patriotic personal trainer. "We're getting a workout today!" he yelled to his supporters.
Gibson told his supporters the march would stop and turn around, but after being met with groans, he announced that the Portland Police had arranged for busses to pick them up.
Video by Mike Bivins
While the group mingled on the hot asphalt of a Burger King parking lot—smoking cigarettes, waiting for buses to arrive—arguments broke out among people who, all day, had marched on the same side of the street. When the man with the flag cape marched in circles, flashing Nazi salutes and shouting racial slurs, a group of bikers confronted him and told him to stop.
"This is a march for free speech!" the caped man yelled. The bikers disagreed.
Meanwhile on a grassy plot by the road, a person with a shaved head screamed at a march leader that he was "queer bashing."
"I have two lesbian daughters, you fucking moron!" he yelled back. Just a few feet away, a man shouted into a blue bullhorn, talking to an invisible crowd. Dogs barked and scuffled. People held cell phones in front of their faces, livestreaming to their personal audiences and thanking followers for watching.
Eventually, a TriMet bus arrived — it's digital face reading: "SPECIAL."
As the marchers boarded, a man in body armor combed the parking lot, picking up cigarette butts. A man in a leather biker vest with a patch reading "I FUCK BACK" pointed his camera at the scant counter-protesters who followed his group all the way to Burger King.
"Here's people," he narrated, "with no direction in life. No purpose."