As many as 200 right-wing protesters arrived in the heart of a grieving Portland this afternoon for a defiant "free speech" rally—and found themselves surrounded.
At least 1,000 counter-protesters assembled on three sides of Terry Schrunk Plaza starting this morning. Gathering at the edges of the sidewalk, they chanted "drive Nazis out" for two hours.
The rally comes in the wake of a double homicide, when white supremacist Jeremy Christian allegedly stabbed three men, killing two, after the men stood up to Christian after he hurled insults at a group of Muslim women.
Last week, Mayor Ted Wheeler asked the federal government to revoke permits for today's alt-right "free speech" rally. The feds said no.
Police forces from several agencies, including Homeland Security, this morning formed a barrier around the federal plaza, ordering protesters on each side to stay in their assigned parks. For the most part, everyone complied.
But they still goaded each other. Men in red "MAGA" hats stood on a hill at the west end of the plaza, taunting the counterprotesters outside City Hall with chants of "All lives matter!" At each border of the plaza, the groups exchanged insults and jibes. "You're the Nazis," yelled a woman on the alt-right side waving an American flag.
"No free speech," she complained into her phone, live streaming the catcalls. "Not in America. Not anymore."
Some of the most famed figures on the far-right fringes have made an appearance, guarded by Oath Keepers and other paramilitary types.
Kyle Chapman, known online as "Based Stickman," held court for admirers who wanted to shake his hand and media who asked him mostly deferential questions.
"Nobody is surprised when leftists come out and try to paint patriotic Americans as white supremacists," Chapman said. "You've got these irredeemables on the left who still eat that shit up. Everybody else laughs."
When asked why he held the rally in the wake of a double-slaying that has left the city shaken, Chapman said, "This is the time to come out and talk, to communicate."
"Why not hold this event? We need to talk about free speech," he told WW. "Why would we not hold this event? Because some left-wing mentally-ill person killed somebody? This is when people need to come out and communicate about our differences. Let's all come out and talk about it. That dude was a mentally ill Jill Stein supporter that vowed to assassinate Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton."
So far, there have been three arrests, and no major violence, but people in Black Bloc outfits were spotted launching marbles into Terry Schrunk Plaza with a slingshot.
Joey Gibson said he organized Sunday's "free speech rally" in order "to spread love."
To anyone who might say it was disrespectful to hold the rally one week after racially motivated murders perpetrated by someone who had attended similar events in the past and yelled free speech rhetoric both before the murders and at his arraignment hearing, Gibson and his supporters said the rally had been planned for weeks and it wouldn't be fair to supporters to cancel.
"Everyone just wants me to shut up," Gibson said. "That's not an option."
One attendee, a Bay Area woman who wouldn't give her name but said she was an ardent Trump supporter who had toured six such events in the last few months, said she was glad the event went on.
"It would have been a financial hardship to cancel my flight and hotel," she said.
Rabbi Ariel Stone was at the counter-demonstration as part of the Portland Interfaith Clergy Resistance.
Asked what she thought about Gibson's method of "spreading love," she said she would be watching to see if that was the actual outcome.
"We shall know them by their actions," she said. "Let's wait and see."