Far-right groups in Portland, Oregon are violently attacking their masked antifascist opponents in the streets in an attempt to reveal their identities to the public.
Over the past two weeks, pro-Trump activist Joey Gibson, the founder of the right-wing Patriot Prayer group, has criss-crossed the city with his allies in the far-right Proud Boys men’s club in an attempt to pull masks off of left-wing antifascist protesters. The demasking campaign marks the latest political street clash in Portland, with antifascists and their allies on the left arrayed against Gibson and his friends, many of whom come into the city to bait their rivals. The far right’s ongoing provocations prompted a series of rallies last year that left one counterprotester with a skull fracture and they heated up again in January after a spate of vandalism aimed at leftist groups.
Once the masks are off, Gibson and his supporters take pictures of the activists—the first step in figuring out the antifascists’ names. After getting the activists’ pictures, Gibson and his associates publish the photos on Facebook in an attempt to find the antifacists’ names, which they can then use to find personal information like addresses.
“It’s an aggressive tactic, but I believe in it wholeheartedly,” said Gibson, a former Republican Senate candidate from Washington state.
Wearing a mask is legal in Portland. Still, Gibson boasted to The Daily Beast that he’s collected three masks so far, while making antifascist activists pull down several more on their own.
“The second the mask comes off, they stop being so rude,” Gibson said.
In one video shot after Gibson’s crew showed up at a protest against Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Saturday, one of Gibson’s supporters wraps up a man in a bear hug, holding him still until Gibson could pull down his face mask.
Activists on the left have accused Portland police of idly standing by as Gibson and his group pursue their “demasking” campaign. But police may soon be taking action against Gibson and his friends. A Portland police spokesman declined to comment, citing an “ongoing investigation.”
“The Portland Police Bureau is aware of the video and the clashes you describe,” a police spokesman told The Daily Beast in an email. “Like all the other public videos the Bureau views, it will help us in determining the proper course of action and resources that are needed relating to any planned or unplanned event.”
Gibson’s demasking campaign began shortly after some of his allies attempted to crash a Democratic Socialists of America meeting at an Industrial Workers of the World meeting hall on Jan. 17.
“They just continually escalated each time we turned them away and refused to engage with them,” said Olivia Katbi Smith, a co-chair of DSA’s Portland chapter.
After being denied entry to the meeting, the right-wing activists claim they were attacked by another group outside the meeting hall. Gibson claims that two of his associates were sent to the hospital after being attacked, violence that he said prompted him to tear off masks.
Two days later, Gibson showed up at the IWW hall with his group. One member of his entourage used a loudspeaker to say, “Get them dirty Muslims out of our country,” according to the Portland Mercury. Another told a woman on the street that it was a “blessing” that her husband had died.
“They had no DSA members to harass, so they took to harassing people on the street,” Katbi Smith said.
The clashes have been extensively documented on social media by both sides. In one clip from the Jan. 19 protest, Gibson and his group run across the street to take the masks off two of their critics—but only after telling one another, on video, to make the fight look “natural.”
The far-right’s focus on the area around the IWW hall culminated in the early morning of Jan. 24, when someone vandalized both the IWW building and Cider Riot, a nearby cidery that was planning to host an anti-fascism event. Messages like “fuck antifa” and “smash communism” were spray-painted on the buildings.
“[The graffiti] says ‘antifa house,’ which I think we should keep up,” Katbi Smith said.
Surveillance footage of the vandalism showed a white man in a beanie cap making the graffiti, according to Abram Goldman-Armstrong, the founder of Cider Riot.
“We’re being targeted for being a safe space for people of all different backgrounds,” Goldman-Armstrong said.
Gibson has been joined in his anti-mask campaign by members of the Proud Boys, the far-right men’s club founded by commentator Gavin McInnes. While the Proud Boys’ national leadership told The Daily Beast they haven’t sanctioned the anti-mask effort, one prominent Proud Boy, rally brawler Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, has been active in Gibson’s efforts.
In one video, Toese boasts that one of his associates pulled a gun during a January fight with antifascists, and only put it away after Toese told him to.
“That’s what it’s about, this brotherhood don’t run,” Toese says in the video, as he kisses a Proud Boy tattoo on his arm. Another Proud Boy pops into the video and pulls down his shirt, to reveal his own Proud Boy tattoo.
The Proud Boys haven’t limited their threats to antifascists. One Proud Boy threatened Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler in a Facebook video posted around the events, saying that the mayor’s days were “fucking numbered.”
While Gibson says he denounces racism, his previous rallies have attracted some white supremacist attendees. Jeremy Christian, who has been charged with stabbing three people after making racist remarks on a train, once attended a rally thrown by Gibson.
Gibson claims that more moderate liberals at events like the ICE protest are actually grateful that he’s taking masks off of antifascists. The Occupy Ice Portland group didn’t respond to a request for comment, but a meme posted on their official Facebook page suggests otherwise.
Illustrated with a picture of Beyoncé wearing a Louis Vuitton ski mask, the meme urges readers to “wear whatever kind of mask you want. FUCK JOEY GIBSON.”
Gibson acknowledges that he may be breaking the law by ripping masks off of his political opponents’ faces. If he’s prosecuted, though, Gibson says he’ll make it a “national news story.”
“It’s going to be a bad move politically, because we’ll use it to our advantage,” Gibson said.
The far-right activists don’t seem as committed to applying the no-mask rule on their own side. In Twitter videos of their January scuffles with antifascists, Gibson and his associates can be seen wearing bandanas around their necks, ready to be pulled up to cover their faces.
“That’s not a mask,” Gibson said. “Only if there’s pepper spray.”
Katbi Smith appreciates why antifascist protesters want to keep their faces covered around Gibson and the Proud Boys.
“I can totally understand why some people don’t want their faces to be shown, because these people, these right-wing agitators, are dangerous,” she said.