Fifteen Elected Democratic Leaders Warn Right-Wing Visitors to Behave Tomorrow. GOP Leaders Seek a Balance.

“Law enforcement do not want or need any help from paramilitaries or vigilante groups.”

Right-wing protesters in Portland, Aug. 17, 2019. (Justin Katigbak)

A group of 15 local, state and federal elected officials released a letter this afternoon through the office of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler expressing their objections to the Sept. 26 Proud Boy rally planned for Delta Park in North Portland.

"As the united leadership of the city of Portland and state of Oregon, we publicly oppose the far-right gathering scheduled to take place in North Portland this Saturday," the officials, all Democrats, wrote.

"The event poses a physical danger to Portland residents, as clearly shown by the organizers' long track record of assaults, confrontations, and threats against elected officials and the citizenry of Portland. This summer, Proud Boys associates fired shots and brandished guns at protesters, beat people in broad daylight, and attacked passersby. The violent nature of the Proud Boys' rhetoric in the buildup to September 26, and recent reporting which indicates that allied groups are developing detailed plans to target press and legal observers at upcoming events, provide additional cause for concern."

The letter echoes the unified response to a gathering Aug. 17, 2019, which brought right-wing groups, including the Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer and others, to the downtown waterfront.

"For the past three years, our community has repeatedly had to deal with rallies of this kind, in which participants travel to our city threatening 'takeovers,' touting their 'combat unit' capacity, and openly bragging about the waste of city resources that they can provoke by showing up to bring violence to our downtown core and our neighborhoods."

Perhaps most significantly, the letter references Oregon laws prohibiting paramilitary groups—and signals that the Proud Boys are marshaling such forces rather than merely engaging in free speech.

"Oregon law prohibits paramilitary activity. Organizers of and likely participants in the September 26 event have openly discussed tactical operations and military-style formations that lead us to believe that they are operating as an unauthorized private militia. Many of them are crossing state lines in an attempt to cause chaos and disrupt the peace. One regular at far-right rallies wrote this week on social media, 'We have a unit large enough now that we have specialized teams inside our unit. Combat and support.' Another wrote last month, 'Like we do in other states, tactical ambushes at night while backing up the police are key.'

"We clearly state, once again, that law enforcement do not want or need any help from paramilitaries or vigilante groups. Any claims by paramilitary groups that they are helping state, county, or local law enforcement are false and dangerous, intended only to suggest that their unlawful activities are legitimate. We will pursue all available legal options to respond to this unlawful activity in partnership with Oregon's state government.

"This paramilitary and alt-right activity as a challenge to Portland's inclusive and democratic values. They use threats, intimidation, and even violence to chill democratic practice, threaten community safety, and undermine civil society. But we won't be intimidated. Portland has a long and proud history of opposing far-right organizing and standing up for Black lives in the Rose City, and Saturday will be no different. We are unified and strong, and we will use every available power and resource of our city government to protect free speech and our community from violence."

Here are the signatories to the letter:

Mayor Ted Wheeler
Commissioner Amanda Fritz
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty
Commissioner Dan Ryan
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum
Rep. Karin Power
Sen. Michael Dembrow
Rep. Jeff Reardon
Congressman Earl Blumenauer
Sen. Ginny Burdick
Rep. Rob Nosse
Rep. Barbara Smith Warner
Rep. Chris Gorsek
House Speaker Tina Kotek

Republican legislative leaders weighed in on tomorrow's event more equivocally.

"For months we have denounced violence committed by any individual or group, no matter their perceived political affiliation, and we continue to do so," said House Minority Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby) and Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod (R-Lyons). "We have every confidence that law enforcement will ensure that all groups inclined to gather in Portland this weekend are able to peacefully and lawfully exercise their First Amendment rights."

Their colleague state Rep. Bill Post (R-Keizer) was less measured. Post took aim at Gov. Kate Brown's decision to issue an executive order directing the Oregon State Police and Multnomah County Sheriff's Office to lead crowd control measures tomorrow.

"This weekend, what is being called a 'right-wing' group will be protesting in Portland, and now [Brown] wants to defend the community? The 'right-wing' groups being referenced do not have a history of violence in Portland, unlike some of the 'left-wing' groups that have been protesting since May," Post said in a statement.

"There have been violent nightly wars in Portland for over 100 days with loss of life and heavy destruction of private and public property. Where was the concern then? Our political leadership only sees the enemy they choose to see and ignores the facts. I strongly urge Governor Brown to extend this executive order to stop these anarchist riots from continuing as they have been since May."

U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams, the top federal prosecutor in the state, was less partisan in his remarks today—but placed significant blame for the looming conflict on anti-fascist and Black Lives Matter demonstrators who have engaged in property destruction and clashed with police.

"There has been nothing civil, respectful, or positive about the nightly violent and destructive protests in Portland, Oregon," Williams wrote. "On many nights, after peaceful demonstrations end, violent agitators have physically attacked police officers and firefighters, damaged buildings, and repeatedly attempted to set public buildings on fire. These agitators include not just local residents but people who have traveled from out of state.

"As a direct consequence of this criminal behavior and the media attention it generates, this community must now deal with the threat of even more outsiders traveling to Portland to participate in what they've been watching on social media and television for weeks," Williams added.

He did not mention a federal police response, but said his office would coordinate with law enforcement, including the FBI, to bring charges against people who commit crimes this weekend.

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