Last weekend, 400 people, mostly men, met in a parking lot along the Columbia River in Vancouver, Wash., girded for battle.
They carried helmets and shields. They wore full suits of futuristic combat armor, Boba Fett helmets and homemade Pepe the Frog costumes.
They clambered onto private school buses and drove into enemy territory: Portland.
Within hours, the streets of the Rose City were filled with strange sights that have recently become common in Portland: neon chemical smoke, men in costumes throwing punches, and riot cops charging into battle.
It was the 15th rally held in Portland in the past year and a half by the Vancouver-based protest group Patriot Prayer. In that time, the group has visited just three other cities outside its home state of Washington: Salem, San Francisco and Berkeley, Calif.
"If I was able to prevent it, I certainly would," said City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly in an Aug. 3 statement denouncing Gibson's rally. "I believe that the principles these groups espouse are intended to foment hatred and violence in our city."
As at previous events, the march was something of a campaign rally for Washington U.S. Senate candidate Joey Gibson, who has parlayed his leadership of Patriot Prayer into a growing profile on the fringes of conservative media.
And, like every other time the right-wing group comes to Portland, it has been confronted by antifascist counterprotesters, sometimes in masks and "black bloc" clothing. This time, roughly 1,000 antifascists arrived, and proceeded chanting from the other side of Southwest Naito Parkway. (A few leftist mariners berated Patriot Prayer from a boat in the Willamette.)
And last weekend, like every other time Patriot Prayer has come to Portland, police were present.
This time, their larger and more militant presence meant that running brawls like those seen downtown one month ago did not occur.
Police largely kept the two groups apart. They did that in part by turning explosive devices and gas weapons on the antifascist protesters, seriously injuring two people.
Despite the injuries to protesters, the mayor defended the tactics of his police officers.
"Numerous individuals were arriving with every intent to inflict great bodily harm," Mayor Ted Wheeler said in a statement Aug. 6. "The goals of the police during the demonstrations were to keep groups separated and to protect lives, both of which they did."
Gibson's rally—and the brawls that occurred in its wake—nevertheless disrupted what would have otherwise been a beautiful summer weekend in Portland's Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Many Portlanders avoided the area. Local Starbucks franchises didn't bother opening.
While the mayor and police are justifying their response by claiming they averted the worst-case scenario, the rally does raise a couple of questions: Why Portland? And will it ever stop?
The answer to that is: Unless city authorities try a different approach, it won't stop until Patriot Prayer wants it to stop. And the group has every motivation to continue.
WW spoke to dozens of Patriot Prayer participants throughout the day—who made it clear they saw Portland as hostile territory.
Few of them knew the city well. The protesters WW spoke to had come from as far away as Arkansas, though many more had come from rural and small-town Washington. In fact, this reporter could find less than half a dozen Oregonians in the Trump-supporting group, let alone Portlanders.
The weekend's "freedom march" drew one of the largest crowds yet seen at Gibson's events, and Patriot Prayer members we spoke with believe their movement is gaining momentum. While the group espouses a platform of supporting the president, no one expects Gibson to unseat incumbent Democrat Maria Cantwell.
That said, Gibson's campaign has been given oxygen by right-wing media outlets. Chief among them is Alex Jones' Infowars, which acted as a de facto publicity arm for Patriot Prayer throughout July.
Jones spent entire segments of his radio and YouTube show demonizing Portland. With Gibson as a guest immediately after the June 30 Patriot Prayer brawl in Portland, Jones accused Portland police of being in league with billionaire George Soros and "standing down to allow antifa violence."
He then gave Gibson a platform on his show to do the same.
On Jones' show last week, Gibson said: "Portland is one of the worst cities in this country. It's full of so much darkness. That's why I'm so motivated to go there. If we don't bring all of this hate onto the streets from antifa and communists, well, people won't see it. I'm happy to go down there and stand up for freedom and stand up for God."
Many who showed up on Gibson's side Saturday were wearing Infowars-branded gear. Others were dressed in outfits that spoke to a desire to antagonize their opposition.
Tusitala "Tiny" Toese, who allegedly assaulted a Portland resident in May, was among those wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan "Pinochet did nothing wrong," a reference to the Chilean dictator who murdered leftist foes. On the back, it showed a cartoon of antifascists being dropped out of a helicopter, an infamous tactic of Pinochet's death squads.
Dozens also wore the black and gold colors of a men's fraternity called the Proud Boys. The Proud Boys, who have been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, have been involved in a number of violent incidents.
Members of American Guard, an Indiana-based paramilitary group tied to white supremacists, were filmed brawling. Another man was photographed sporting an SS neck tattoo.
The Patriot Prayer contingent was met by protesters who ignored pleas by city officials to stay home. Rose City Antifa was joined by a "PopMob" protest, supported by a broad range of community groups and progressive organizations.
Police concentrated much of their energy on these groups. Shortly after 2 pm, police fired six rounds of "less lethal" ordnance into the antifascist groups, claiming protesters had launched missiles at them. Video and the testimony of journalists have cast doubt on this claim.
The spectacle was greeted with jeers and chants by the Patriot Prayer crowd.
Right-wing protesters have every motivation to continue, given that U.S. Court of Appeals rulings restrict cities from pre-emptively banning protests, even if those events have led to violence in the past.
WW spent much of the day with right-wing protesters Saturday. We watched plentiful brawls occur during and after the main protest, and the evident delight of right-wing demonstrators when police turned on their adversaries.
In the following pages, you'll read comments from protesters on opposite sides of the police line describing what unfolded.
To the members of Patriot Prayer, Saturday looked like victory. And they want to do it again.
"Success will be when we can march through downtown Portland with a flag and do whatever we want without being assaulted. If you're not of [Portland's] mindset, it's hard to do.
"We're getting some attention. I don't know if the other side is getting the message, but we're definitely getting some attention."
—Josh from Vancouver—no last name given—who has attended several Patriot rallies. Josh arrived for the event wearing a khaki tactical vest and carrying a military surplus combat helmet.
"Our community in Portland and Vancouver has been plagued recently. Minority communities feel like there is no one here to help them. [Patriot Prayer is] looking for a Sunday or Monday headline that says they're victims, which is false, or that it was all about freedom of speech. Well, we've set up a table; this is their opportunity to be heard. If you walk away from this opportunity, clearly you didn't want to speak—you just wanted to be seen."
—Chris Thobaben, a veteran running for the Washington state house as a Democrat in the District 18a primary. Thobaben and others set up a table across the street from the original Patriot Prayer rendezvous point in Vancouver. They offered right-wing protesters an opportunity to debate them before leaving for Portland. There were no takers while WW was there.
"I don't trust mainstream media any more. Infowars have helped me wake up. Before the media used to cover everything up, and now we have the internet. The awakening is happening this year. We can see the evil cabal running our planet now.
"I'm a family man. This is my first rally. I am just so fed up with how things are."
—Zach, from Washington, a newcomer to Patriot Prayer rallies, who would not give his last name. Zach was interviewed at Marine Park in Vancouver wearing an Infowars-branded "Hillary for Prison" T-shirt.
"When I first got into this stuff, I went to some End the Fed protests, but nothing like this really. I saw a video of these guys singing the national anthem, walking down the street and getting attacked for it.
"I'm out here supporting everyone's right to free speech. [The media] are trying to divide us and get us to fight.…Honestly, it's about bringing people together."
—Roth, a Vancouver protester and self-described "working-class guy" who was also attending his first Patriot Prayer rally. Roth also wore an Infowars T-shirt and expressed appreciation for the conspiracy broadcaster.
"Lock them up! Lock them up!"
—Patriot Prayer chant as Portland police fired explosive devices at counterprotesters and charged them on Southwest Columbia Street.
"Nothing gave rise to it. I saw no provocation. The Portland Police Bureau just wanted to go have their fuckin' lunch. If it's a victory for Patriot Prayer, it's a victory won by the cops. We outnumbered them."
—Olivia Katbi Smith, co-chairwoman of the Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, who co-sponsored a counterprotest called Popular Mobilization—or PopMob. The PopMob and antifascist protests were charged by police on Southwest Columbia Street after they followed Patriot Prayer's march south.
"The aggressive policing of counterprotesters who didn't appear to be throwing anything allows people to think that police are acting on behalf of the Proud Boys."
—Eric Ward, executive director of the Western States Center, which co-sponsored the PopMob counterprotest.
"Today is a big win for America. Today, we have proven to Portland that no matter what kind of threat they send our way, they are not gonna stop us. They are not gonna make us bend the knee. The only way we bend the knee is before the cross.
"Even if your cops stand down and don't do their job, we're still gonna come. Even if we get injured, we're still gonna come. [Today,] the cops did their jobs, and we're proud of them."
—Patriot Prayer organizer Tusitala "Tiny" Toese at the microphone at the conclusion of Patriot Prayer's rally. Toese has been involved in several alleged assaults at rallies, on Portland Streets, and at the Vancouver Westfield Mall.
"Portland police did what we have been asking them to do for a year and kept the sides separated. You saw the result, you saw which way the police were facing, away from us. Today went really well. Our main objective was for Ted Wheeler to do what he is supposed to do, to get the police to do their jobs.
"Today was success."
—David Machado, longtime Vancouver member of Patriot Prayer who has taken care of organizational details like permits and bus driving in the past. Machado says he was pepper-sprayed by Portland police on June 30.