Over 1,200 right-wing and left-wing demonstrators descended upon Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park on Aug. 17 amid fears that tension would transition into violence. Declared a civil disturbance by the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), the protests were largely peaceful with a few isolated criminal incidents. By 6 p.m., nearly all demonstrators had left the downtown area.
The Proud Boys, a far-right organization that calls itself “the world’s largest fraternal organization” was labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Known for their white nationalism, misogyny and anti-Islamic sentiments, The Proud Boys helped organize the infamous 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The group convened in Portland under the leadership of former InfoWars employee Joe Biggs and members traveled from across the country to attend the rally.
Their protests were in response to the June attack of conservative journalist Andy Ngo by alleged left-wing demonstrators. In response, Rose City Antifa and other left-wing groups vowed to counterprotest and drive far-right protesters out of the city. In the days leading up to the protests, Portland residents took to social media and urged their minority neighbors to avoid downtown.
Earlier in the week, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler appeared on several national television networks after being criticized for his handling of previous protests. In the past, Wheeler and the PPB have been accused of lenient law enforcement against Antifa and other left-wing demonstrators. Wheeler attempted to calm tensions by committing “all the resources needed to be ready” and warning that “if your intent is to be violent, you are not welcome (in Portland).”
Numerous news sources anticipated violence between the two groups, playing clips of previous Portland protests, including the 2016 riots after Donald Trump was elected president. Fox News host Jesse Watters predicted that “all hell (was) going to break loose” if PPB officers were unable to contain protesters.
President Trump also weighed into the protests on Twitter hours before demonstrators began arriving at the Portland waterfront.
“Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an ‘ORGANIZATION OF TERROR,’” Trump tweeted. “Portland is being watched very closely. Hopefully the Mayor will be able to properly do his job!”
When demonstrators first arrived to the Portland waterfront around 8:30 a.m., law enforcement separated the two groups with concrete barricades and bicycle-mounted officers. Left-wing protesters were to the north beneath the Morrison Bridge while the right-wing group was kept to the south near Salmon Street.
Just before 12 p.m., officers opened the Hawthorne Bridge, closed for the protests around 4 a.m., as right-wing demonstrators moved to the eastern waterfront. According to the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, this action occurred after The Proud Boys contacted officers with a request to leave the downtown area.
Antifa activists, accompanied by other left-wing protesters, began marching into the city center shortly after the right-wing group left the western waterfront. Max Colmenares ’20 was among a large group that gathered on the corner of First Avenue and Salmon Street.
“I almost did not show up because I was scared of being here and was worried about this being a bad advertisement for anti-fascist groups,” Colmenares said. “But I do want to be here because it is cool that this is the response to people showing up supporting fascism and other terrible ideologies.”
Ray Schelgunov, a 64-year-old resident of Portland, came to the waterfront in support of Antifa.
“This is about solidarity against white extremists,” Schelgunov said.
In the city center, lingering right-wing demonstrators were encircled by large groups of left-wing protesters. One woman was corralled by dozens of left-wing demonstrators as they chanted accusations of racism and Nazi affiliation. In another viral incident, well-known right-wing provocateur John Turano and his adult daughter, Bianca Turano, were chased down Southwest Naito Parkway by a large group of left-wing demonstrators.
A separate group of left-wing protesters stopped a bus carrying right-wing demonstrators and broke open the door, where a hammer was thrown between the two groups. The original owner of the hammer remains unconfirmed.
At least six people were injured throughout the day, one of whom required transport to an area hospital.
Christopher Evan Strange, a 19-year-old from Newberg, Oregon, was confronted by a trio of left-wing demonstrators because he was wearing an American flag sweatshirt. Strange is not associated with a right-wing group but defended his beliefs when protesters approached him.
“I did not come to oppose anything,” Strange said. “If I do oppose any side it would be Antifa and other groups. I see myself as a normal person and I came to talk with people.”
Law enforcement officers spent the afternoon and early evening mostly chasing counter-protesters as they gathered near Pioneer Courthouse Square and crossed the Willamette River into East Portland. At least 13 people were arrested downtown and along the eastern waterfront for assault, disorderly conduct and unlawful use of a weapon. Several weapons were confiscated by law enforcement, including knives, metal spears, shields and bear spray.
In an interview with CNN, Enrique Tarrio, a chairman of The Proud Boys, promised that his group would return to Portland as long as Antifa and left-wing demonstrators remain unchecked.
“As long as Ted Wheeler keeps pandering to Antifa and not calling them out by name, we are going to keep coming out here,” Tarrio said. “He’s going to call the National Guard, the FBI, all of those people, and we are going to keep coming out here until Ted Wheeler does something.”