On March 28, the streets around Oregon's Capitol hosted the latest altercation between dueling protesters as anti-fascist demonstrators hurled rocks and flags at a right-wing truck parade passing in front of the building. One incident stood out: A man driving a red-white-and-blue-striped Ford pickup pulled a pistol on protesters attacking his vehicle.
This reporter was on scene. What happened shows how violent the encounters between opposing political groups have become, and how closely they skirt disaster.
3:39 pm Sunday, March 28
Oregon State Police chase leftist protesters north from the Oregon Capitol. The protesters walk toward the Safeway at the corner of 12th and Marion streets, where they suspect the right wing motorcade is stopped. After a minor clash with one right-wing vehicle involving an exchange of mace and paint in a nearby parking lot, the protesters return to the Capitol.
The returning crowd spots a white-haired man in a heavily decorated silver Ford F-150 at a stop light. (The same silver truck was spotted earlier driving by the Capitol; witnesses say the driver flipped off leftist protesters as he drove past.)
Protesters throw a volley of paint and objects at the truck, obscuring its windshield with yellow paint. The occupant immediately exits the vehicle. (A press release by Oregon State Police later says the man disembarked to survey the damage, but the counterprotesters interpreted this as a sign of aggression.)
"He's got a gun!" someone in the crowd yells, although the man has yet to draw a weapon. More aggressive members of the crowd tighten their circle around the pickup. The right-wing motorist returns briefly to the cab of the pickup before walking around to the passenger side of the vehicle, facing the sidewalk, after anti-fascists with sticks smash lights and windows on the truck.
Someone among the leftists maces the man. He winces, then pulls a Beretta M9 pistol from the waistband of his trousers. He pulls back the slide on the pistol, briefly sweeping the crowd with the muzzle of the weapon as he chambers a round. "He's got a fucking gun!" someone yells. Most of the crowd retreats at the deadly metallic sound.
An Oregon State Police senior trooper approaches the man from behind with Taser drawn. The man drops to his knees, laying down his gun.
12:14 pm Monday, March 29
Oregon State Police announce the man with the gun was detained and released. "He did not point the weapon at anyone and dropped it when ordered to do so by law enforcement," the OSP statement says. (Photos show otherwise: He pointed the gun at people but didn't appear to aim it.) "This person has a valid concealed handgun license."
Correction: Due to an editor's error, the print edition of this story incorrectly stated that the state trooper deployed his Taser. He did not. WW regrets the error.