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Proud Boys And Anti-Fascists Clashed At Portland Rally

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Portland, Ore., now, where this weekend violent clashes broke out between the Proud Boys and antifascist counterdemonstrators. As Oregon Public Broadcasting's Jonathan Levinson reports, police did little to stop the political violence from unfolding.

JONATHAN LEVINSON, BYLINE: The Sunday confrontation took place in northeast Portland, about 10 miles from downtown. About a hundred people attended the Proud Boys rally, which they billed as the Summer of Love. Many of them were armed and decked out in body armor with patches saying things like right-wing death squad. Speakers at the event referred to people charged in the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol as political prisoners and addressed a number of other grievances. Tusitala Toese, a well-known local Proud Boy, said transgender women should not use women's restrooms.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TUSITALA TOESE: But guess what. If you want to identify as a woman and go in there, I'm going to follow you in there as a woman, too. Then I'll whoop your ass.

LEVINSON: The rally turned physically violent when antifascist counterprotesters arrived and confronted the group. Proud Boys and antifascists exchanged volleys of mace, paintballs, full soda cans and fireworks. Some in the group swung bats. As the brawl moved down the street, fireworks exploded at a nearby gas station. Businesses in the area began closing to avoid getting caught up in the melee. Antifascists attacked members of the media, throwing one journalist to the ground, smashing her phone and calling her derogatory names. Proud Boys attacked a man in his car, smashing his windows, dousing him with mace and physically beating him. One witness to the hourlong altercation said she was outraged that violence like this could take place with no police intervention. She asked that we not use her name, fearing retribution from the Proud Boys.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: If this was in Laurelhurst, this wouldn't be happening. They would have shut this [expletive] down already.

LEVINSON: Laurelhurst is a wealthy Portland neighborhood. In downtown Portland at an antifascist demonstration, a man made racist comments at two Black people attending. He eventually pulled a gun and fired. Two rally attendees also had guns and fired back. Eventually, police arrived. They arrested the man who fired first. The lack of police involvement on Sunday wasn't a surprise. In the days leading up to the Proud Boys rally, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said officers would investigate crimes and possibly make arrests later but would not get involved in the moment.

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CHUCK LOVELL: You should not expect to see police officers standing in the middle of crowds trying to keep people apart.

LEVINSON: Instead of the massive police presence seen last fall at a similar rally, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler urged people to choose love at a Zoom press event Friday.

For NPR News, I'm Jonathan Levinson in Portland.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.