After a quiet month on Portland's streets, far-right protesters are returning to this city at the end of the month—with an march that could bump up against the opening night of the Waterfront Blues Festival.
The June 30 "Freedom March" is billed as a rally to "promote freedom and courage." It marks the first appearance of right-wing provocateurs—who seek to "trigger" and brawl with left-wing foils—since a June 4 event where they squared off with antifascist groups and riot police.
The prospect of that event caused anxiety on Portland, since it came in the wake of a MAX train double slaying allegedly committed by a white supremacist who tagged along at the right-wing protests. But it proved largely uneventful. More than 2,000 liberal protesters did surround the group of about 250 "alt-right" supporters to call them "Nazis", but the groups remained separated by police.
Since then, the organizers of the Vancouver, Wash.-based "Patriot Prayer" movement have gone on something of a traveling roadshow, getting in fights with antifa in Seattle and getting their car tires slashed on the campus of Evergreen State College in Olympia. (Several right-wing "free speech" protesters affliated with this movement yelled insults at people attending Portland Pride last weekend, though they didn't conduct any organized counter-protest.)
The Seattle "March Against Sharia" was marked by several street donnybrooks that have become the best known feature of these political confrontations:
Joey Gibson, a 33-year-old Vancouver man who leads the Patriot Prayer group, tells WW he always expects violence at his events—because antifa won't let him and his allies speak in peace. But he says the group will not stop marching in Portland despite the risk of skirmishes with counter-protesters.
"It's to silence us," he said. "That's not my fault. They do that to stop us."
Gibson says the group's plan is to "march in peace like Americans are supposed to."
The June 30 event appears far smaller in scope than the June 4 rally, which attracted celebrated figures from the extremist movement known as the "alt-right."
But the march, scheduled for 6 pm near Portland City Hall, is likely to overlap with the first weekend of the Waterfront Blues Festival four blocks away in Tom McCall Waterfront Park. That could be a racially charged combination, since some of the people who march in the "free speech" events are known to wear the emblems of white supremacist and militia groups.
On the group's Facebook page, the march organizers have said they're aware of the potential conflict with a huge crowd.
"I understand about the Blues Festival," an event host wrote Wednesday. "After I meet with the right people I might change the meet up spot, no worries. Date and time will be still be the same. Meet up might be a block or two away."
Gibson says his group is expecting violence and planning for it—though he wouldn't say what the plan is. "We have to make sure we control ourselves and be good people," he says. "If we misbehave, we're driving people to the other side."