Portland residents and police are bracing for potential violence at two rival rallies next week, after attacks earlier this summer made national headlines.
On Aug. 17, members of the far-right Proud Boys men’s group, led by former Infowars reporter Joe Biggs, will meet at Portland’s waterfront for a rally they’re describing as a rally to “End Domestic Terrorism.”
“We’re pretty concerned,” said Lindsay Schubiner, a program director at the left-leaning Western States Center. “Far-right paramilitaries like the Proud Boys have continued to escalate their violent assaults and confrontations in Portland, and the event that’s planned for August 17 seem to be very much in line with similar political violence that they’ve brought to the city before.”
Nearby, antifascists and other counterprotesters will rally against the Proud Boys with musical instruments and costumes at an event its organizer, a group called PopMob, says will be an “environment of whimsy and positivity.”
The rallies will be the first major political demonstration in Portland since June 29, when right-wing groups clashed with left-wing antifascist demonstrators around another two dueling rallies.
Masked antifascists attacked right-wing journalist Andy Ngo during that clash. The violence turned Ngo into a celebrity on Fox News, and ratcheted up tensions even further in a city that has seen violent confrontations between groups on the right and left since 2017.
Last week, the Portland Police Bureau issued a statement warning that the Aug. 17 events could involve “persons interested in participating in criminal activity.” In a statement, Portland police chief said messages posted online “suggest some attendees plan to engage in violence.”
Portland police said Tuesday that neither group has a permit for their events.
While the Proud Boys claim to only engage commit violence in self-defense, critics of Biggs’ event point to a recent video in which he shows off a Trump-themed bat as proof that Biggs and his allies don’t intend to stay non-violent.
In the video, Biggs holds up a ridged baseball bat decorated in patriotic colors and Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
“It’s pretty fucking epic,” Biggs said in the video. “It’s a Trump bastard bat.”
Later in the video, Biggs waves the bat around, says he’s going to “put this to good use,” and laughs.
Biggs said he doesn’t plan to bring the bat to the rally.
“I’m not toting it around like I’m a cast member from The Walking Dead,” Biggs told The Daily Beast in an email. “All this does is add more fuel to the fire.”
Biggs and other Proud Boys have worn shirts promising “helicopter rides” for their opponents, an allusion to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s regime murdering its critics by throwing them out of helicopters. Several Proud Boys were charged after a brawl in New York City last year, while two prominent Portland Proud Boys were charged in March for allegedly attacking a man on the street.
Rose City Antifa, an antifascist group that has frequently showed up to oppose the right-wing rallies, also didn’t respond to a media request.
The Proud Boys are expected to be joined by a number of other right-wing groups, including the III%er militia group. Schubiner said right-wing activists, including many from outside Portland, have repeatedly come to the city to clash with their opponents.
“I think they see an opening, and I think that’s an opening that city leaders need to focus on closing,” Schubiner said.
At the counterprotest organized by PopMob (whose name is short of Popular Mobilization), attendees have been encouraged to show up with silly costumes and musical instruments. PopMob spokesperson Effie Baum said the costumes and music are meant to encourage a wider range of people to participate—and to make it harder for Proud Boys and their allies to create the kind of viral-ready clashes that have made some of their members into stars on the pro-Trump internet.
“They really thrive on their media representation in their YouTube videos and their perfectly curated propaganda to seem like these tough, macho dudes,” Baum said. “And we want to basically completely counter that by making it impossible to get a single shot portraying that kind of toxic masculinity, because it’s going to be people in crazy banana costumes.”
Internally, the Proud Boys have tried to downplay any interest in combat, and tried to instead create patriotic photo ops for the event. In a message posted on Russian encrypted messaging app Telegram, Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio warned Proud Boys not to show up to the rally wearing “excessive LARPing gear”—a reference to ”live action role-playing,” an insult popular on the internet that’s meant to suggest that someone is only playing at being tough.
In his post, Tarrio urged Proud Boys to bring plenty of American flags but leave “cringey signs” at home. Tarrio told Proud Boys to only put on helmets “if shit gets crazy” and to only wear “gloves” when necessary apparently a reference to the combat gloves used at the political clashes.
“Nobody, absolutely NOBODY gives a shit about all your cool new tac/LARP gear,” Tarrio wrote.
The political rhetoric between the two sides in the Portland area has only gotten more intense since the June 29 clash, according to Schubiner, who said the tensions are at a “fevered pitch.”
“That does raise serious concerns about the potential for violence,” Schubiner said.
The point of the counterprotest is to make the Proud Boys look “ridiculous,” according to Baum, but acknowledged the possibility that there will be violence at the Aug. 17 events. Baum pointed to last weekend’s shootings in El Paso and Dayton as proof that mass violence can happen randomly, too.
“We can’t ever guarantee people’s safety, but as we’ve seen this weekend, you’re not safe anywhere,” Baum said.