Proud Boys and other right-wing combatants in Northeast Portland on Sunday fired paintball guns out of moving trucks, toppled and looted a van, and brawled in the street with anti-fascist adversaries amid fireworks and smoke bombs, with police nowhere to be seen.
The Aug. 22 rally—called “Summer of Love: United We Stand Divided We Fall”—was held in the parking lot of an abandoned Kmart in Northeast Portland. The event landed about 48 hours after Mayor Ted Wheeler and Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell warned that police would not intervene in weekend skirmishes that resulted from the planned gatherings.
“We are asking you to choose love,” Wheeler said during the Aug. 20 press conference. “People should not necessarily expect to see the police standing in the middle of the crowd trying to keep people apart.”
The mayor and police chief kept to their word: There was no obvious sign of Portland police for the duration of an event that, at its climax, resembled scenes from a Grand Theft Auto video game. (Hours later, a gunman exchanged shots with armed foes in downtown Portland.)
Proud boys and Anti-fascists (antifa) battle on the outskirts of protland— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) August 23, 2021
-mace, fireworks, beatings with bats
-no police response
-4:22pm: 17min into conflict
Reporting for @nytimes pic.twitter.com/52cpputihS
The Proud Boys and their affiliates abruptly moved their rally this week from a downtown waterfront park to the parking lot along Northeast 122nd Avenue. Hostilities began Sunday after leftist counterprotesters arrived in the Kmart parking lot, nearly 10 miles from an anti-fascist gathering along the Willamette River.
While the Portland Police Bureau made it clear Friday that they wouldn’t wade directly into a melee, it is unclear whether any police were present at all during Sunday’s rally—even around the perimeter of the nearly 7-acre lot, where armed attendees stood guard at the various exit points. (PPB and the mayor’s office did not immediately respond to WW’s questions about whether any police were present at the rally.)
“There were no immediate arrests, but detectives are reviewing evidence to determine whether charges can be brought for any criminal activity,” the bureau said in a statement Sunday night. “As stated before today’s events, officers were not deployed to stand in between individuals intent on confronting one another. But that does not mean the crimes committed will not be addressed.”
The Police Bureau in its statement also omitted any names or political affiliations of the involved groups. “Some individuals committed acts of violence and property destruction both in downtown Portland and in the Argay Terrace neighborhood after some people physically challenged each other,” the bureau wrote Sunday.
That follows a pattern: Both Wheeler and Lovell declined on Friday to name the groups they anticipated arriving in Portland this weekend. During the rally, however, those affiliations were apparent: Most attendees wore gear affiliated with right-wing ideologies or paramilitary groups. The affiliations included the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, and supporters of former President Donald Trump.
Longtime street brawler and Proud Boys affiliate Tusitala “Tiny” Toese appeared to headline the rally by introducing speakers and queueing the music.
Toese, 25, pleaded guilty in January 2020 to assault charges after he punched an anti-fascist protester in 2018. Multnomah County Circuit Judge Kathleen Dailey sentenced Toese to two years of probation with the condition that he wasn’t allowed to participate in mass demonstrations or protests during the probationary term.
On Sunday, as Toese stood onstage against the backdrop of a large American flag and alongside a Statue of Liberty replica, four attendees dressed in black and yellow clothing unfurled and hung a sign from the roof of the empty Kmart. The sign read “Free Our Political Prisoners”—likely in reference to those facing charges stemming from the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6.
“A huge thanks to PDX Proud Boys for this stage, the sound system—thank you so much,” Toese told the crowd. “I give all you guys thanks for coming out.”
The rally, for the most part, remained calm until around 4 pm when a skirmish broke out between right-wing and anti-fascist counter-protesters dressed in black bloc. The fighting spilled out onto adjacent 122nd Avenue—a major artery that runs through the Argay Terrace neighborhood. Burgerville, Round Table Pizza and Parkrose High School are all a stone’s throw away.
The violence appeared to escalate when a white van that said “Metro West Ambulance” pulled into the southwest corner of the parking lot. The driver apparently crashed and fled the scene. Witnesses of the incident described a fight between the van’s passengers and right-wing protesters. Soon after, Proud Boys-affiliated protesters toppled and ransacked the van, and shot at it with paintball guns and spray-painted “FAFO”—short for “fuck around and find out”—onto the van’s roof.
Things have escalated. A person tried to drive into the event’s parking lot near organizers and then crashed the van and fled. Fireworks in the street followed. Will have more updates. pic.twitter.com/haFFWOMEwb— Gabby (@GabbyUrenda) August 22, 2021
The clashes spread to nearby Parkrose High School, where right-wing protesters smashed windows, slashed tires and fired paintball guns at a silver truck after a confrontation between the groups, according to witness accounts and videos from the scene.
As the fighting wound down near 5 pm, far-right demonstrators chanted “Fuck antifa!” as they drove in doughnuts in the parking lot and shot airsoft guns into the air from the windows. Someone in the group shouted “Alright, Proud Boys, let’s roll out!” The Statue of Liberty replica, secured in the upright position in one of the truck beds, grazed the leaves of a parking lot tree as the caravan departed.
Yards away from the parking lot, a family with small children visited the Powell Grove Cemetery. From the vantage point of the gravesite, the family stared at the scene in front of them for a brief moment before placing flowers on the ground.