For more than six months after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, the city of Portland, Oregon, enjoyed a summer largely free of far-right rallies. That changed this weekend when a coterie of fringe figures descended on the city, where they were filmed throwing punches at bystanders, clashing with the left, and in one case pointing a rifle at a journalist.
Among the group was one person charged with allegedly breaking into the Capitol (currently out of jail awaiting trial), as well as people wearing Proud Boys uniforms. The right-wing group’s return to the streets, after a brief lull in post-Jan. 6 scuffles, is a warning for the rest of the country, local activists say.
A famously left-leaning city, Portland has long been in the crosshairs of far-right groups, many of them based outside the city or across state lines.
“Portland itself is seen as this soft target, I think, by the far right, because there’s good activism going on here and a police force that doesn’t give two shits about policing the far right,” Juan Chavez, project director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center’s Civil Rights Project, told The Daily Beast.
At the heart of the weekend’s mayhem was a religious event by an anti-LGBT pastor, the Portland Mercury reported. The event attracted a “security” force of far-right figures, who engaged in an escalating series of fights throughout the weekend. On Saturday, for instance, a group on the right filmed itself shouting homophobic and misogynistic slurs at a man standing alone. The group, which included at least one man wearing Proud Boys colors, knocked the man’s coffee and phone to the ground before hitting him in the head and throwing him down, with one man appearing to hold a wooden bat in the man’s face.
Elsewhere at the event, acting as “security” for the religious gathering, was Jeff Grace, a Washington man currently facing charges for breaking into the U.S. Capitol. Grace has admitted to entering the Capitol (“yes, it was illegal,” he told KGW News, though he denied wrongdoing) and admitted in a Facebook video to attending the weekend event in Portland.
“People say you can’t fight antifa. You can’t fight the evil with these,” Grace said in the Facebook video, holding up his fists. “Guess what? You can. As long as He’s the lead [he pointed toward the sky], you can use this [holding up fists].”
A now-viral picture by photojournalist Nathan Howard shows Grace leaving Portland on Saturday in the back of a pickup truck with seven other men, who are holding bats, a shield, and what appears to be mace. Grace appears to be holding a baton. He did not return a request for comment.
On Tuesday, prosecutors in Grace's Capitol riot case entered a new filing that seeks to bar Grace from owning weapons or destructive devices ahead of his trial. “This modification is necessary in light of Grace’s escalating behavior and his willingness to bring his firearm and other weapons to engage in pre-planned conflicts,” the filing reads.
In his Facebook video, Grace (like other attendees) blamed the day’s violence on the left. Reporter Sergio Olmos filmed the two sides in a brief Saturday dispute, during which a person on the left fired pepper spray and at least one person on the right fired a paintball gun, all while a police car sat nearby, sounding its siren but otherwise appearing inactive. (Two of the far-right crowd aimed firearms at the left, although it was unclear whether both were paintball guns.)
Other onlookers or journalists also found themselves facing fists or firearms. Michelle Galaria, who moved to Portland late last year, told The Daily Beast that she rode her bike to the religious event on the waterfront on Sunday, “to see what’s what” after hearing about clashes the previous day. There, she encountered a group of heavily armed guards, whom she questioned. Although the conversation was initially friendly, the group later became more hostile, ordering her away, she said. Galaria said she asked what authority the men had to issue orders in a public park.
“I said, ‘What, are you going to hit us with that?’” Galaria recalled to The Daily Beast. She said she tapped the baton one of the men was holding. She said he shoved her backwards with the baton. Galaria said she understood his reaction, although it worried her from an unauthorized security guard. But it wasn’t the end of the encounter. “The bigger guy lunges and pushes me in the chest with his baton. As he does that, another guy steps in, grabs my bike and throws it to the ground.”
She said she is currently discussing the incident with police. So far, the Portland Police Bureau has not announced any arrests related to the weekend’s fracas.
Galaria emphasized that she was not a member of any of the weekend’s feuding factions. “That was their response to me, by myself, an almost-50-year-old female on a bicycle, they’re lined up with 10 to 15 men, armed—that was their response,” she said. “That’s what really concerned me.”
Later that night, at least one journalist wound up in the far-right’s crosshairs when a man aimed a rifle at him while the journalist took pictures. Police later determined the weapon to be an airsoft gun, although it did not appear to have an orange tip indicating it to be less-than-lethal.
Elsewhere on Portland’s streets that night, Proud Boy-affiliated brawler Tusitala “Tiny” Toese was filmed participating in clashes with the left. Although Toese lives in Washington state, he has a history of venturing to Portland for fights. In January 2020, he pleaded guilty to punching a Portland man two years prior. He violated his probation in that case by traveling interstate to Portland for a pro-Trump rally last June, and was released from jail early in December. (Toese could not be reached for comment.)
The return of well-known Proud Boy brawlers—as well as a Jan. 6 defendant—to Portland’s streets bodes trouble, says Zakir Khan, a local civil rights activist.
“I think in the wake of January 6th [far-right rallies] had died off,” in the city, Khan told The Daily Beast. “I think the events on Saturday and the minor skirmishes that happened brought out a larger presence on Sunday. The minor skirmishes of Saturday showed yet again, that Portland Police were not going to respond to these types of incidences. And they were largely nowhere to be seen as these things were happening. I mean, this is happening in broad daylight, in the middle of the day in downtown Portland.”
Portland’s rallies are not isolated incidents. Instead, the past clashes have acted as blueprints for future far-right violence, attracting fringe figures who travel across the country for the prospect to mingle with fellow travelers and fight with the left.
Chavez, the Oregon Justice Resource Center project director, recalled past rallies that have featured prominently in Proud Boy propaganda. During one, in 2019, the group was able to march across a Portland bridge that had been closed by police.
“There’s this picture that’s like a Renaissance painting of several figures who were later at the Capitol and who are now either in jail or being prosecuted,” Chavez said. The lack of consequences in Portland emboldened the group, he said. “Of course they thought they can just march into the Capitol and do what they did. They learned it here.”
Khan described local far-right rallies as precursors to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
“Local police around the country failed the Capitol Police,” he said. “I think Capitol Police that day had no idea what was effectively coming because of poor communications between agencies, and agencies just not viewing these groups as a major threat.”
Grace, the Jan. 6 defendant who attended the weekend’s rally also compared the two.
“These colors do not run,” he said in his Facebook video. “That’s the same thing I did in the Capitol. I did nothing wrong. I proudly, peacefully protested. What everyone knows is a lie and you know what? It’s been proven and proven again, so you know what? I told ya I’m not gonna cower, I’m not gonna quit, I’m not gonna bow down. Nope. So I’ll be back”
This story was updated to include information about new filings in Jeff Grace's Jan. 6 criminal case.
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