Protesters and counter-protesters entered the arena for a day of dueling demonstrations on Saturday, Aug. 22.
The click-click-woosh of paint ball gunfire was punctuated by the sudden booming of fireworks and the hiss of bear mace as right- and left-wing groups clashed for hours from 11 a.m. to around 3 p.m. outside the Multnomah County Justice Center.
In the midst of the fray, one woman sitting along the battlelines calmly daubed with a paintbrush, capturing a squadron of conservatives she dubbed "cosplay patriots."
"They don't actually value equality in any real sense, which is a tenet of America," the artist said. "Black Lives f----g Matter. This has always been about that. The focus has not changed no matter what other media outlets try to say."
Just spoke with the artist: â€œthese guys are cos-play patriots,â€ she says.— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) August 22, 2020
â€œBlack Lives fâ€”â€” Matter. This has always been about that, the focus hasnâ€™t changed.â€ https://t.co/HnLKZZqWvR pic.twitter.com/T0pjadUuzo
At times the groups charged head first into one another like something out of medieval combat, while the Portland Police Bureau stayed away from the action — saying later that they had only 30 officers available for crowd control management, some of who were tired from deployment to a riot at the North Precinct the previous night, and that those involved in the street skirmishes appeared to "willing participants" engaging in brief scuffles.
Police did not declare a riot but said the events fit the definition; federal officers declared an unlawful assembly and cleared crowds from the federally owned Chapman Square later in the day.
Paul S., who did not give his last name, carried two flagpoles and wore a shirt reading "Ore-GUN-ian." He said he came out to support police and to push back against communism.
"There are people who literally want to restructure society," Paul said of the opposing protesters. "I can guarantee 99% of the people here on this side ... they don't want to fight anybody. They're not neo-nazis or fascists, they're not KKK."
A handful of right-wing protesters did wear the yellow-banded polo shirts or other gear with the logo of the Proud Boys, a self-identified Western chauvinist organization, however.
Police said their resources were further taxed after dispatchers reported a man threatening his mother with a "saber." While it was later determined to be a shaving implement, not a sword, authorities said only four squad cars were available for 911 calls across the city at that time.
"Incident commanders have to weigh out the entire situation to determine if police action is likely to make things safer or not," the police bureau said in a release. "Additionally, PPB members have been the focus of over 80 days of violent actions directed at the police, which is a major consideration."
The right-wingers gathered outside the Justice Center for a "No Marxism in America Rally" and a "Trump 2020 Cruise Rally," the sort of events that typically draw a flood of black-clad counter-protesters to downtown Portland. But after more than 85 nights of continuous protesting, the two sides were nearly evenly matched. While both sides carried batons and shields, it was the right who eventually formed a palisade screen.
Street brawl in Portland â€” man charges into crowd pic.twitter.com/qFCvEgDM27— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) August 22, 2020
Around 2:30 p.m., the left pushed the right side away from the boarded-up Justice Center. Trucks were spotted soon after barreling over bollards in their rush to leave nearby parking garages surrounded by jeering crowds.
Car leaving downtown Portland parking garage during protest pic.twitter.com/cTFioCXwlh— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) August 22, 2020
Tusitala "Tiny" Toese, once a top lieutenant in the Patriot Prayer movement, appeared at the rally and later calmly strolled past PPB officers standing outside doors leading to the Central Precinct.
Toese has an active warrant for his arrest due to probation violations, KATU reported, but police spokeswoman Capt. Tina Jones told the Tribune officers did not arrest him at that time because "we had limited resources today and have to be selective about if and when any arrests or other actions are taken."
PPB said it also was aware of video reports by OPB reporter Sergio Olmos showing a man — identified by Olmos as Alan Swinney — pointing a revolver at protesters during the height of the clash.
"Crowd management events are complex, especially when they involve groups with differing ideologies with members who wish to engage in physical confrontations," said Police Chief Chuck Lovell.
Others said the counter-protest was necessary defense of the community.
"Protesters are as much about Black Lives Matter as they are about fighting fascism," said Portland resident Merry Ann Moore. "This is just as important as getting the vote out."
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