The outlook of a Saturday far-right rally in Portland, Oregon is uncertain after some of its key organizers dropped out or faced arrest.
The rally, organized by the far-right ultranationalist group the Proud Boys, is billed as a “protest” against anti-fascists, commonly known as “antifa.” The Proud Boys and other proto-fascist groups have previously brawled with anti-fascists in Portland, notably during a series of bloody rallies last summer. With members of the far right announcing their intention to travel from out of state to commit violence, Saturday’s rally has loomed as a potential powder keg. But after a series of arrests and warnings, some of the best-known agitators might not be attending.
The rally’s biggest promoter, Proud Boy and former Infowars reporter Joe Biggs, advertised the event with explicit calls to violence. In the run-up to the event, Biggs has posed in shirts with slogans like “death to antifa” and “training to throw communists out of helicopters.” (The latter, a reference to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s execution of political opponents, is a popular reference on the paramilitary right.)
In repeated social media posts promoting the rally, Biggs called for blood. “Get a gun. Bu[y] ammo. Get your gun license. Get training. Practice as much as you can and be ready because the left isn’t playing anymore and neither should we,” he wrote in one of many similarly violent posts, among which was a picture of a person being suffocated with a plastic bag with the caption “death to antifa.” He repeated the sentiments in a video while holding a pro-Trump baseball bat.
But in a Facebook post last week, Biggs announced that the FBI had visited him in his Florida home after a pair of mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. “I wanna say again to all attending rally in Portland,” Biggs wrote, apparently in reaction to the visit. “Tone down rhetoric.”
Biggs has not withdrawn from the rally, but began vanishing from social media platforms this week, extremism researcher JJ McNabb noted.
Other, more local far-right brawlers also encountered law enforcement ahead of the rally. Portland police reportedly arrested six affiliates of extremist groups this week, over their alleged involvement in a May attack on a left-leaning Portland bar where they allegedly beat a woman unconscious and broke her vertebrae. Among those arrested Thursday was Joey Gibson, the leader of the far-right group Patriot Prayer. Gibson has previously stoked violence ahead of other rallies.
Two Proud Boys who frequently fight in Portland were charged in spring with felony assault stemming from other fights.
One large far-right group, the Oathkeepers, announced this week that they would skip the event altogether. Oathkeepers urged others on the right to drop out, citing Biggs’ violent rhetoric.
“Frankly, given the prior statements of Joe Biggs that will be used against all attendees of his rally, it would be best for the patriot/conservative cause if this August 17 rally were simply canceled," the group’s president wrote in a statement on their website.
Portland officials have urged the far-right and counter-protesters to avoid the rally, issuing a warning that the city would not welcome anyone "using the guise of free speech to commit acts of violence.”
"You want to be hateful, stay home," Portland City Council member Jo Ann Hardesty said Wednesday. "Do not get on a plane, on a bus and come to Portland. We don't want you here. We never wanted you here. If you come, we will expose you to the light of day."
The city has faced heavy criticism over its handling of previous protests, where police instituted a heavy crackdown, notably leaving one leftist with a serious head injury. Anti-fascists also accused the city’s police of playing favorites with the right, after it was revealed that a lieutenant kept in close communication with Gibson during previous rallies. The far right, for their part, accuse the city of giving anti-fascists preferential treatment. During a late June clash, masked assailants punched right-wing videographer Andy Ngo, an incident frequently cited in advertisements for Saturday’s rally.
This week, anti-fascists gave the far right another reason not to show up: the leftist protest group Popular Mobilization (PopMob) announced that, for each attendee of the fascist rally, they would donate money to pro-immigrant causes.
“Every one of the fascists that shows up is raising money for a cause that they hate,” PopMob spokesperson Jesse Goldman told HuffPost.