Experts: Gun violence 'escalating' Proud Boys, antifa brawls
They're not LARPing anymore.
Live Action Role Playing — the dismissive comment du jour for those watching the region's street brawls from the comfort of a screen — never accurately captured the serious nature of political warfare, experts in extremism across the Pacific Northwest say.
But with bullets flying, the stakes have been raised even higher.
"There's been an escalating amount of gun violence associated with white nationalist, anti-democratic events this summer," said Amy Herzfeld-Copple, a director at the Western States Center.
In just a fortnight, two shootings occurred as dueling protest groups clashed in Portland and Olympia, Washington. By chance alone, no one died at either event.
On Sept. 4, right-wing Proud Boy leader Tusitala "Tiny" Toese was shot in the ankle during a protest in Olympia, Washington, with the bullet nicking an artery and fracturing a bone before passing through his flesh, according to a conservative livestreamer.
And an hour after an Aug. 22 fight between Proud Boys and left-wing groups called antifa near an abandoned Kmart in east Portland, people on opposite sides of the political spectrum exchanged gunfire in downtown Portland.
Researchers at the Western States Center say the Proud Boys are planning a number of events this weekend, including an ammo raffle outside Olympia City Hall on Saturday, Sept. 18, as well as a medical freedom rally outside the home of the mayor of Battle Ground, Washington.
According to Herzfeld-Copple, right-wing groups are promoting the "Justice for Tiny" event in Olympia on Telegram with a meme of a gun and a message reading: "F— antifa."
"Reports of violence from paramilitary organizations, which we are increasingly seeing across the north, underscores that the state and federal government need to do more," she said. "Adding guns to the mix increases the danger exponentially."
Rumors were rife in the hours after the Olympia shooting, but the Tribune has learned that the confrontation started not during an anti-vaccination protest, but after both sides rallied for an event hosted by a city council candidate, Candace Mercer, who has described herself as a progressive who voted for Trump.
Transit station surveillance footage released by local authorities shows a figure clad in black assuming a shooter's stance and firing five times as Toese approached while carrying a baton and shield.
Ironically, both sides have points of agreement: that the risk of violence is rising — that media accounts fail to tell the whole story — and that police have failed to de-escalate tensions.
"Our group always gets painted as the bad guys," said a woman who was there on Sept. 4, identifying herself and her comrades as anti-fascists.
"The whole narrative is just garbage," said Robert Zerfing, who livestreamed the event while embedded with the Proud Boys, but does not identify as one.
Neither party has much faith in the cops, either. Zerfing said police should have formed a buffer between the two groups, while the woman said the official press release erroneously painted the clash as a "gang fight."
"They said it started as a verbal altercation. That's not what happened. We were accosted from behind. They chased us down," she said.
Zerfing wonders why no arrests have been made, given the number of cameras at the Intercity Transit Station.
"The whole reason that there's a patriot movement in this country is that people who dress like ninjas are attacking people in red hats," he said.
To be sure, gun violence at protests is not new in itself. One man was shot and three were arrested during a clash between similar groups in Olympia in December 2020, according to the local newspaper. And the fatal shooting of Patriot Prayer supporter Aaron "Jay" Danielson last August recently spurred a $13 million lawsuit which claims Portland officials ordered police not to intervene.
A firefight downtown
Speculation ran rampant in equal measure after the shoot-out on Southwest Second Avenue near Yamhill Street on Aug. 22, which ended without injuries.
Police initially suggested that the shooting was unrelated to the so-called "Battle of Kmart," despite witness reports that the right-wing gunman had flashed a gun while approaching the left-wing group's turf and then used a racial slur.
Man with handgun opening fire now pic.twitter.com/tkN3Wf5g0w— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) August 23, 2021
A neutral observer says Dennis G. Anderson, the 65-year-old Gresham man who was arrested after the firefight, could be heard saying "these guys are the real fascists" as he approached.
The Multnomah County District Attorney's office has since dropped an unlawful firearm possession charge, but continues to pursue one count of unlawful use of a weapon, a minor felony, records show.
Less is known about the other shooters. But a photo — previously reported by Willamette Week and now viewed separately by the Tribune — shows the two partisans, a man and a woman, each pointing handguns while taking cover behind parked cars. One wears a jacket emblazoned with an unmistakable antifa slogan.
The snap was set to be featured in a national magazine, but the piece ran recently without it. It's unclear when the image will see the light of day.
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