Portland Parks Denies Permit for Planned Proud Boys Rally in North Portland

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz said the rally of right-wing groups would violate social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Right-wing protester Alan Swinney at a rally in Gresham in August. (Sam Gehrke)

Portland Parks and Recreation has denied a permit for a planned Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer rally in Delta Park on Saturday.

In a statement, City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees city parks, said the rally of right-wing groups would violate social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The described event is not compliant with Oregon Health Authority guidelines about the number of people allowed in gatherings," Fritz said in a statement, "and cannot be conducted in a manner consistent with physical distancing guidance from public health officials."

The decision was first reported by The Oregonian.

While the rationale for denying the permit was COVID-19, the decision comes amid widespread fear that Saturday's event will turn violent. The Proud Boys are holding the rally in part as a response to the killing of a Patriot Prayer demonstrator by a self-described anti-fascist security guard in downtown Portland in August. Leftist groups, including some from Seattle, plan to gather in Peninsula Park, 3 miles away, despite pleas from elected officials to stay home.

Protesters against police violence have regularly held demonstrations that violate social distancing guidelines over the past four months—in fact, they regularly chant "Stay together! Stay tight!" as they prepare for clashes with police. But the Black Lives Matter protesters do not request permits for their events. The Proud Boys apparently did.

It remains unclear whether the permit denial will mean Portland police will clear the Proud Boys from Delta Park. Police have regularly allowed protest groups to assemble without permits. And two other law enforcement agencies rejected a request from Portland police to assist with crowd control at Saturday's events, citing Mayor Ted Wheeler's ban on tear gas.

Fritz struck a strict tone in her announcement of the denial.

"We must all do our part to fight the spread of COVID-19 in our community and keep ourselves and each other safe," she said. "Events like this are not welcome and not allowed."

UPDATE, 5:40 pm: The city's correspondence with the organizer of the Proud Boys rally shows the permit was withheld in part because of the crowd size listed in the application: 20,000 people.

The maximum size of gathering the city will permit in the pandemic is 50 people.

"Your permit request identified an expected attendance of participants at 10,000 and spectators at 10,000," a Portland Parks and Recreation employee wrote Wednesday morning. "The total 20,000 is above current OHA guidelines. As a result, PP&R is unable to issue a permit for this size of event."

In his permit application, Florida-based Proud Boy organizer Enrique Tarrio said he anticipated 20,000 people based on " Social media interest, history of hosting these events, anger about terrorism."

That crowd estimate is much larger than the figure local law-enforcement officials anticipated in emails sent Tuesday. In a rejection of a request from Police Chief Chuck Lovell to assist with crowd control, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese said the crowd size was estimated in a law enforcement briefing at 1,000 to 3,000 people.

That crowd size would still be among the largest gatherings of conservative protesters in Portland since the election of President Donald Trump. Such gatherings have rarely attracted more than a few hundred people.

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