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Gunfire erupted in Portland on Sunday amid what may have been the most chaotic display of political violence between far-right agitators and antifascists in the Oregon city yet.
A coalition of heavily-armed groups, including the Proud Boys, rallied for a “Summer of Love” event in Portland, Oregon, Sunday. The event had been advertised online with a colorful Hippie-esque flier, promising “Patriots spreading LOVE not HATE.”
But as reporters on the ground observed, many of the approximately 200 people who showed up to participate in the event seemed prepared for anything but a 1960’s-style “love in.” Instead, they came openly carrying handguns, baseball bats, chemical spray bottles, and at least one pickaxe featuring Proud Boys insignia, The Guardian’s Jason Wilson reported.
It didn’t take much for the powder keg to explode: all hell broke loose when the far-right contingent spotted a smaller group of anti-fascists. Only minutes later, according to reporter Sergio Olmos, the two sides were engaged in uncontained and fast-moving brawls involving mace, fireworks, chemical spray and brutal beatings. They moved into the parking lot of a high school where the far-right swarmed a parked vehicle, smashed its windows and beat the driver bloody—all of which was captured by journalists. The far-right tipped over a medical van.
Videographer Ford Fischer also captured an attack against independent journalist Maranie Staab by antifascists wearing black bloc. Members of that group were threatening to smash journalists’ cameras, Fischer wrote on Twitter. The video shows Staab talking to a member of the group, who calls her a “slut.” Then, one of them appeared to throw her to the ground, while others shot mace and paintballs at her. After she was helped up by other photographers, the black-clad group continued to throw projectiles at her.
Two hours after the fighting started, gunshots rang out. The first shots were fired by a man who was being chased from the area by a group of antifascists, reported Wilson, who witnessed the shooting. The man “took cover behind an electrical substation box, produced a handgun and opened fire,” Wilson wrote. Someone appeared to return fire, though it isn’t immediately clear who. At least seven shots were fired, said Wilson. Nobody was injured, but videos of the scene show civilians and reporters fleeing, or taking cover behind cars.
In a statement, Portland police said that they had arrested 65-year-old Dennis G Anderson, who has been charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and unlawful use of a weapon. They made no mention of the person who appeared to return fire.
Portland, famously a bastion for left-wing protest activity and liberalism, has been a hotbed for political violence since the beginning of the former President Donald Trump’s presidency. Far-right groups, including the Proud Boys, have routinely come into the city looking to fight leftists. It began with low-level fist-fights, harassment campaigns and verbal disputes. But over time, tensions have escalated. (Disclosure: Gavin McInnes, who founded the Proud Boys in 2016, was a co-founder of VICE in 1994. He left the company in 2008 and has had no involvement since then.)
Last summer, Portland became a popular right-wing talking point, as activists there protested against police brutality following the murder of George Floyd and faced off with federal police. With temperatures already running high, the far right continued to return to Portland and look for fights—but this time, more of them had guns, as did some on the Left. One night in late August 2020, a self-proclaimed antifascist shot and killed a member of the far-right, further fueling the simmering turf war in Portland.
As the violent clashes were ongoing on Sunday in Portland, many local activists and journalists were puzzled by what appeared to be a near complete absence of police. “Officers were not deployed to stand in between individuals intent on confronting one another,” Portland police said in a statement. “But that does not mean the crimes committed will not be addressed. Arrests do not always happen in the moment.”
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell added that, “While it’s disappointing that some people chose to engage violently, I am grateful for those who exercised their rights peacefully and without committing crimes.”