The Portland police chief twice said this week she saw left-wing counterprotesters as more worrisome than their right-wing adversaries at Portland protests, in part because the left-wing protesters were carrying guns.
"That group is the group that was lobbing projectiles and setting off smoke bombs and, you know, showing up in flak jackets and bringing guns and wearing helmets," Police Chief Danielle Outlaw said in an interview with radio host Lars Larson on Aug. 15.
That claim surprised observers of the dueling demonstrations—because the right-wing groups, led by Vancouver, Wash.-based Patriot Prayer, had talked of bringing guns and moved their rally to a place where carrying weapons was permitted. (Patriot Prayer supporters have brought concealed handguns to protests in the past.)
Now, the Portland Police Bureau says officers reported seeing guns in both groups during demonstrations on Aug. 4.
"Firearms were observed in both groups by law enforcement, but no contact was made by law enforcement due to the volatility of the events," says police spokesman Sgt. Christopher Burley. "Information about the officers' observations were shared with the chief and others in the Command Post, before, during, and after the event."
Police did not confiscate any guns, despite issuing warnings that there would be weapons checkpoints and telling protesters firearms would not be allowed in Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Portland police have offered no further evidence other than to say officers reported seeing the weapons.
She first publicly made the claim that counterprotesters had guns at a press conference on Aug. 7. When asked to clarify what evidence supported that claim after the press conference, Burley said he knew officers had reported seeing guns in the crowd over radio, but did not know which group of protesters the officers were referring to.
After Outlaw repeated the claim to a wider audience on the radio, Burley added additional details. Burley says the reports that both groups brought guns were shared with the chief, but did not respond to questions about why Outlaw had repeatedly presented the claim as if only antifascist protesters were allegedly armed.
The larger question Outlaw was trying to address on the radio—why police focused on left-wing and antifascist protesters—remains unresolved.
Witnesses, reporters and video footage of the moments before police began firing flash-bang grenades and other riot control agents at the counterprotest do not substantiate the official police narrative that protesters first threw objects at police. The Oregonian reviewed hours of video footage and failed to find any frame that showed protesters engaged in the activities police have described.
Photographs, video footage and WW's reporting also show that many of the right-wing Patriot Prayer supporters showed up to the protest in flak jackets, wearing helmets and armed with bats, poles, mace and other weapons. A group of antifascist protesters showed up in black bloc, with plastic shields and helmets.
Outlaw has said suggestions that the police showed favoritism to one side or the other are "ridiculous."