For nearly three years, 35-year-old Joey Gibson has led a band of ultra-conservative hecklers and brawlers into Portland to rally against a city that has a reputation for progressive and liberal politics.
But on Aug. 16, Gibson marched into the Multnomah County jail in downtown Portland—to turn himself in on a felony riot charge stemming from a May 1 brawl sparked by his followers.
"Obviously what they're going to do is say I can't participate in any protests in Portland," Gibson told conservative talk-radio host Lars Larson on Aug. 15 after the charge became public. "I'm being targeted 100 percent."
Starting early in 2017, Gibson, of Vancouver, Wash., hosted Patriot Prayer rallies that attracted white nationalists from Identity Evropa, anti-government paramilitary groups like the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, and misogynist pro-Trump bantams from the Proud Boys. Those rallies also attracted antifascist opponents, and typically ended in fightfights—sometimes breathtakingly violent, with retractable batons and flag poles deployed as weapons.
He whipped up thousands of counter-protesters in June 2017 when he held a far-right rally little more than a week after two men were murdered on a MAX train by a man spewing racist vitriol. The alleged murderer, Jeremy Christian, showed up to one of Gibson's rallies in April 2017, but organizers kicked him out for flashing Nazi salutes.
Patriot Prayer continued to enter the city for loosely-defined rallies, ostensibly protesting Portland's liberal politics. Gibson told WW in 2017 that his true intention was to bait antifascists into fights on camera that could be used to make antifa look bad.
Gibson organized three of the most violent protests in Portland's recent history, on Aug. 6, 2017; June 30, 2018; and Oct. 13, 2018. He also organized a large Aug. 4, 2018 rally that led police to use crowd control agents on leftist counter-demonstrators, severely injuring several people with flash-bang grenades.
Gibson has closely affiliated with Proud Boys in the past, including his former right-hand man Tusitala "Tiny" Toese. Toese returned to his hometown in American Samoa earlier this year, after a Multnomah County grand jury voted to indict him on a felony assault charge.
On May 1, Gibson led a group of agitated far-right supporters to a Portland pub, Cider Riot, where antifascists had gathered after a day of peaceful May Day protests. Along with former Proud Boy Russell Schultz, so-called "cop watcher" Christopher Ponte, and right-wing hangers-on Ian Kramer, Matthew "Deme" Cooper and Mackenzie Lewis, Gibson allegedly participated in a riot after attacking the antifascists.
Video of the altercation shows Kramer hit a woman in the back of the head with a baton, knocking her unconscious. A civil lawsuit filed by Cider Riot's owner alleges Cooper battered several people at the cidery. That lawsuit also alleges Lewis assaulted someone in order to remove the person's mask.
Gibson encouraged his online followers to harass Cider Riot in the days after the incident by leaving negative reviews on Facebook and Yelp.
Two-and-a-half months later, Gibson faces a felony riot charge for his role in the fighting.
The arrests related to the May 1 brawl come before another far-right rally organized by the Proud Boys and Florida-based talk radio host Joe Biggs. City officials have been warning attendees that acts of violence on Aug. 17 will be met with swift consequences.
Gibson insists that he did not break the law or engage in violence on May 1, but he has in the past acknowledged to WW that his tactics are controversial. He promoted a campaign to forcibly remove masks from antifascist protesters in Portland, which could likely be considered harassment or even assault.
"I definitely encouraged people to do that," Gibson told WW in May.
He said at the time he would willingly face criminal charges for his behavior if it violated the law.
"They should charge it," he said in May. "I talked to Portland Police [about de-masking], they said 'I'm sure they could charge you with harassment or something.' I'm willing to take it."
As he turned himself in to the Multnomah County jail on Aug. 16, Gibson's tune had changed. He says he's being politically targeted by police because of tomorrow's rally.
"Instead of arresting the criminals, they decided to charge me with rioting," he said to reporters just before he entered the jail.