Proud Boys kneel in prayer at a sparsely attended “end antifa” rally in Portland on Sept. 26, 2020. (Photo: Tess Owen/VICE News)
Instead, about 1,000 Proud Boys and MAGA activists showed up, according to crowd estimates from Oregon State Police.
The smell of booze wafted across the field, Trump 2020 flags rippled in the wind, and Proud Boys milled about, many wearing tactical gear accessorized with bear spray, bats, paintball guns, and walkie-talkies crackling with warnings of potential antifa intruders.
“I came here because they said there’s going to be beer,” remarked one Proud Boy who gave his name as “Milkshake.” “There’s beer and the American flag arouses me.”
“We’re the Proud Boys, and we’re western chauvinists, and we refuse to apologize for creating the modern world,” added Milkshake, who had a Proud Boy tattoo on his arm. “We love America. We don’t want to see it go to the shithole. And Portland’s kind of the shithole of America right now.”
Chants of “fuck antifa” intermittently broke out through the crowd.
“We pray for the people of Portland. You can save Portland. You can save any member of Antifa,” urged a speaker who was only described as the “Chaplain.” “Reveal your purpose to the Proud Boys. Use us to lift up this city, to save the people of this city.”
The solemn mission of salvation bestowed upon the Proud Boys, militiamen and pro-Trumpers in the audience struck quite a different tone than some of the rhetoric seen online ahead of Saturday’s rally.
Earlier this week, Bellingcat published internal chats from Patriot Coalition, a network of militant right-wing groups, which showed them discussing tactics for the rally, including using glass breaker balls. “This won’t be a simple fist fight,” one person wrote. “People will get shot, stabbed and beat.”
Concerns over potential violence at Saturday’s rally even led Oregon Gov. Tina Brown to declare a state of emergency and establish a multi-jurisdictional police task force to respond to any potential unrest.
Meanwhile, Proud Boy Chairman Enrique Tarrio, who had traveled from Miami, Florida, repeatedly insisted that the event, which was touted in part as a pro-police ‘Back the Blue” rally, was never meant to be about violence.
And yet many in the crowd seemed to be itching for a fight. They’d set up tailgate style, and were slamming beers and White Claws before noon. Any potential intruders were immediately swarmed. At least two live-streamers were assaulted; one was kicked in the head by a rally attendee. (Portland police say that they’re investigating the incident.)
Other journalists reported being repeatedly menaced by Proud Boys wielding bats. There was even one brief scuffle between rally-goers in the line for the bathroom.
Entry points to the Delta Park were manned by heavily armed guards, who had established checkpoints. Some were even positioned on the top level of nearby bleachers, who were looking into the distance through binoculars, presumably keeping watch for approaching enemies.
In one bizarre interlude, a black stretch limo emblazoned with the words ‘AMERICAN WOLF’ drove by the field, followed by a white van. They parked, a man got out, and began unloading dozens of white plastic shields, which were also labelled “AMERICAN WOLF” and the url for their website.
“American wolf is not a militia,” their website states. “In fact, it’s not even a group. It’s a movement comprised of American men and women fighting for positive change in the United States.” They claim to have raised $74,000 for the defense fund for Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old accused of shooting two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last month.
Rittenhouse, a former police cadet, is pleading self-defense, and has become somewhat of a conservative folk hero since the Kenosha shooting. He was also one of the main honorees of the Proud Boy event. One woman carried signs saying “KYLE’S LIFE MATTERS.”
Jake Gardner, the white Omaha bartender who died by suicide a week after he was indicted for fatally shooting a Black protester, was also an honoree.
But the killing of Aaron Jay Danielson, a supporter of far-right Patriot Prayer, was one of the biggest themes of the day. Danielson was shot dead by Michael Reinoehl, a self-proclaimed anti-fascist, on the streets of Portland less than a week after the Kenosha shooting. Caps and t-shirts saying “JUSTICE FOR JAY” were for sale on merch tables by the main stage. “Who Killed Aaron “Jay” Danielson?” a sign asked. “Not the police. Not the Proud Boys. Not President Trump.”
Tarrio announced plans for the rally on September 3, just days after Danielson was killed. Online rhetoric about avenging Danielson’s death was another reason that local officials were on edge ahead of Saturday’s event. Portland has seen some of the worst political violence of the Trump era. Groups like Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer have routinely targeted leftist protesters there and in some cases, those showdowns have led to brawls and injuries.
Mounting tensions in Portland were exacerbated by the renewed civil rights movement following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis — and the mobilization of a well-armed counterprotest movement. Portlanders protested for over 100 consecutive days, and at one point, found themselves up against federal troops deployed as a crowd-control force by President Donald Trump.
At a Proud Boy rally in Portland in August, a far-right activist fired into a group of Black Lives Matter protesters. Proud Boy supporter Alan Swinney also pulled a gun on protesters during that same event. Swinney was a no-show at Saturday’s event however. He wrote on Parler, a popular right-wing alternative to Twitter, that there was a warrant out for his arrest. He said he didn’t know what the charges were but was “sure it had something to do with shooting violent protesters with paintballs.” American Wolf is also crowdfunding for Swinney’s legal defense, and has raised $1,400 so far.
The End Antifa rally was initially slated to take place in Portland’s downtown, but on September 17, Proud Boys moved the rally to Delta Park, located on the city’s north side, at the site of the former Vanport City, where a large minority community was washed away by a flood in 1948. To many Portlanders, Delta Park is a sensitive site that symbolizes the city’s racist history and ongoing issues around gentrification.
A counterprotest of about 1,000 people was held three miles away in Peninsula Park. There, groups of black-clad antifascists mingled with local activists, including “Plant Bloc” who were handing out free fruit and vegetables to attendees. Additionally, a group of Black activists from Portland held what they described as an “educational session” at the marker of the former Vanport City.
The Proud Boy event started to wrap up around 2.30 p.m., and most traveled as a caravan over the bridge to Vancouver in Washington State. But other attendees may have had other plans. Oregon State Police said in a statement that police stopped other vehicles for traffic violations, including a group of Proud Boys who were riding in a truck holding paintball guns, firearms, baseball bats and shields.
Police issued criminal citations to two men for possession of loaded firearms in public, and seized the weapons in the vehicle.