A defiant Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said tonight that if Proud Boys organizer Joe Biggs follows through on a threat to return to Portland each month, he will deploy police officers "as often as I need to."
In the hours after law enforcement largely defused the tensions surrounding waterfront protests, Wheeler chastised Biggs and other right-wing marchers for frightening Portlanders with the prospect of violence in the streets.
"In this national environment, where we've had some mass shootings just a little over a week ago, there is an environment of fear," Wheeler said at a press conference this afternoon. "There is rhetoric that is aimed predominantly at women and people of color and immigrants. It creates a sense of uncertainty and a sense of fear. And so, Mr. Biggs and others saying that they're going to come here, that feeds into that sense of fear.
"So I want to be very clear: We do not want him here in my city, period."
Wheeler's remarks came in response to a threat by Biggs, a Florida right-wing talk radio host, that he would return to Portland on a monthly basis unless Wheeler would "declare Antifa an enemy of Portland and restore order."
Biggs and other right-wing groups came to Portland demanding that antifascists be designated a domestic terrorist group. Proud Boy Enrique Tarrio, who also organized the rally, also left town with an ultimatum. "Either he takes charge and removes the scourge of violent domestic terrorists from his city, or we come back month-after-month," Tarrio said.
That threat was belied by what unspooled at Tom McCall Waterfront Park today, when Proud Boys asked police for permission to leave the park via the Hawthorne Bridge nearly as soon as they had arrived. They then spent much of the afternoon anxiously exchanging rumors about antifa chasing them, and decamped for Vancouver, Wash.
Wheeler, meanwhile, is looking at the first protester clash in recent memory that could end as an untarnished victory for city officials. Previous protests have either ended in bloody clashes between political foes, or have seen police deploy munitions like flash-bang grenades against leftist protesters. Today, neither happened.
In the days prior to the right-wing rally, Wheeler gathered an array of civic leaders to warn the Proud Boys to stay out of town. Police arrested six right-wing protesters, including organizer Joey Gibson, for their role in assaults outside the bar Cider Riot on May 1. Those arrests seemed to unnerve the visiting right-wingers, and one paramilitary group pulled out of the rally altogether.
The crowds today were smaller than at similarly hyped protests. Police estimated 1,200 people attended, and no more than 300 of them were allies of the Proud Boys.
Police Chief Danielle Outlaw said tonight that the Proud Boys and their allies asked police to let them leave the waterfront—and the cops allowed that, in order to keep the two groups of protesters apart.
"Shortly before noon, a group of demonstrators communicated to our liaisons that they wanted to leave the downtown area," Outlaw said. "At that point we determined that it would be in the interest of everyone's safety to allow them to remove themselves from the area. We allowed them to cross the Hawthorne Bridge at that time. We did not show preferential treatment, but rather facilitated a de-escalation of potential conflict."
Wheeler, whose day began with a tweet from President Donald Trump saying he was watching Portland and its mayor closely, offered prepared statements this evening at the Portland Police Bureau's central precinct. But he departed from those remarks after receiving questions from a right-wing livestreamer. He seemed annoyed by the idea of Biggs and his followers returning.
"When we have people like Joe Biggs say that they will come here every single month until we do whatever it is they think we should be doing," he said, "these types of demonstrations and the response cost millions of dollars. They're misusing public taxpayer resources, and I hope they think about that."
Later, the mayor turned more contemplative.
"We are now confronting the reality that in the United States, we have a rising white nationalist movement, based on white supremacy," Wheeler said. "And it is impacting the entire nation. But we're certainly seeing that play out here on the streets of Portland. …Portland, being a very progressive city, is always going to be at or near Ground Zero when it comes to this battle. That's just the reality."