The conflict between Portland anti-fascists and out-of-town right-wing agitators has apparently spun off from street brawls to college fraternity-level pranks.
Early Friday morning, the makeshift metal elk statue erected by Black Lives Matter protesters at Southwest Main Street and 3rd Avenue—previously the site of the 120-year-old Elk sculpture and fountain, which was removed by city officials in July after fires were lit at its base—went missing.
It didn't take long to identify the culprits: By Saturday, members of Patriot Prayer, the Vancouver, Wash.-based far-right protest group, had gone on social media to take credit for the theft.
"Antifa's evil deer in Portland is no longer evil," read a post on the Patriot Prayer Twitter account, accompanied photos of the statue tied to the back of a truck. "It has been red pilled and will no longer fight to oppress the people and will now be a freedom fighter. He is registered to vote and will now be voting for Trump."
Antifa's evil deer in Portland is no longer evil. It has been red pilled and will no longer fight to oppress the people and will now be a freedom fighter. He is registered to vote and will now be voting for Trump. pic.twitter.com/icb8EnBZ8H— PatriotPrayerUSA (@PatriotPrayerUS) October 10, 2020
An eyewitness told the Portland Tribune he saw a group of men—some armed with batons—lift the statue into a flatbed truck around 9:30 am Friday.
In an interview with The Oregonian, Chandler Pappas, a supporter of Patriot Prayer, said he gave the idea "the green light" earlier in the week and called it "a political statement." He also suggested it was in part a reaction to the killing of Aaron "Jay" Danielson in downtown Portland on Aug. 29.
"I had to do something," he said, "and I'm not going down there to start shedding blood."
Pappas posted a photo on his own Twitter account of himself and his associates posing with the statue, some flashing white supremacist hand signals. Another image showed the group has "registered" the elk to vote as a Republican.
The evil elk is now registered to vote pic.twitter.com/XBYDaGa0gk— PatriotPrayerUSA (@PatriotPrayerUS) October 10, 2020
Joey Gibson, Patriot Prayer's founder, tweeted that he is in Pennsylvania and was not involved in the theft, but said the group "legally and lawfully removed trash from downtown Portland."
The artwork, unofficially known as the "nightmare elk," was put up by an unknown artist after the official Elk statue was taken down and placed in storage by the Regional Arts & Culture Council to protect it from vandalism during the nightly protests against police brutality.
"The suggestion was that an angry mob sought to destroy the statue as vengeance, when quite the opposite was actually true," wrote architecture blogger Brian Libby in August. "Protesters clearly seemed to love the statue, and though it was a very bad idea to light fires at the base of it, those fires were essentially making the Elk a kind of shrine."
In reaction to the theft of the replacement elk, members of Portland's anti-fascist protest community wrote that "the site of the statue had become a memorial for Black victims of police violence."
Speaking with The Oregonian, Pappas indicated there will be more. "That's not the last you'll see of the elk."