Portland Police Will Establish Weapons Checks at Saturday Patriot Prayer Rally but Will Not Take Guns From Licensed Owners

A heavy Portland police presence has succeeded in keeping the warring protest groups apart in the past. "We don't want this here," mayor says.

Portland police at a Patriot Prayer protest in September 2017. (Sam Gehrke)

The Portland Police Bureau revealed some details of its approach to the far-right demonstrations and counterprotests planned to take place near the southwest waterfront Saturday.

Patriot Prayer will be hosting a "March for Freedom" that has been described by Republican Senate candidate Joey Gibson as a "campaign event," even though Gibson is running for office in Washington, not Oregon. Members of the Proud Boys, which the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as a hate group, have said they will be attending from several states including Washington and California.

A heavy police presence will be in the area, and officers will establish weapons checks to confiscate dangerous items before people enter Tom McCall Waterfront Park. However, police will not be able to take licensed handguns from concealed carry permit holders.

"I continue to strongly reject the idea that violence or hate speech are legitimate means to a political end," Mayor Ted Wheeler said in a statement on the planned rally. "Chief [Danielle] Outlaw and I have serious concerns about the potential for violence at this weekend's demonstrations.  It is particularly troubling to me that individuals are posting publicly their intent to act out violently. We don't want this here."

Oregon is an open carry state, but only individuals with concealed handgun licenses can tote around loaded firearms whether they're visible or not. Oregon does not recognize other states' conceal carry permits, but many people in neighboring states hold a valid license in Oregon. In Multnomah County, one-third of handgun permits issued by the sheriff belong to Washington state residents.

A large group of counter-protesters organizing under the moniker Popular Mobilization—or POPMOB—plan to show up to oppose Gibson's rally.

At recent events, clashes between antifascist protesters and far-right demonstrators have led to violence in Portland's streets. On June 30, a Patriot Prayer rally broke into a riot that sent five people to the hospital.

However, Portland police have had success in the past keeping the opposing protest groups apart. The bureau's press release hints at a return to that approach during Saturday's demonstrations, which could limit the risk for violence.

"The Police Bureau has put forth significant effort into preparing for tomorrow's demonstration and will do their best to provide a safe environment," Wheeler said. "Chief Outlaw will be in command of the Portland Police Bureau's response for Saturday's demonstrations. I have complete confidence in her leadership and the Police Bureau's ability to appropriately manage this challenging situation."

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