A rally by the far-right Proud Boys in Portland, Oregon, in support of President Donald Trump and police drew about 200 protesters Saturday afternoon, far fewer than the expected thousands that led the city to brace for potential violence.
Among the rallygoers who gathered at a city park were dozens wearing militarized body armor, including helmets and protective vests. Many flew American flags or black flags bearing the logo of the Three Percenters, another far-right group, and some wore Make America Great Again hats. Some had long guns.
The Multnomah County sheriff had said police were anticipating a crowd of 1,000 to 3,000 people at the demonstration, NBC affiliate KGW reported. Organizers of the rally had said they expected to draw 20,000 people.
Portland has become a flashpoint for sometimes violent political conflict in months of ongoing demonstrations, and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, declared a state of emergency on Friday, saying that “white supremacist groups from out of town” were coming to the city.
“We have seen what happens when armed vigilantes take matters into their own hands. We’ve seen it in Charlottesville, we’ve seen it in Kenosha and, unfortunately, we have even seen it here in Portland,” the governor said, referring to deaths following political clashes in Virginia, Wisconsin and Oregon.
“Let me be perfectly clear, we will not tolerate any kind of violence this weekend,” she said. "Those stoking the flames of violence, those coming to Portland looking for a fight will be held accountable."
The Proud Boys, a group of self-declared Western chauvinists, were denied a permit for the planned gathering due to coronavirus social-distancing concerns, but rallied anyway in what they had said would be a free speech event to support Trump and the police and condemn anti-fascists.
Last month, a Trump supporter and follower of another right-wing group, Patriot Prayer, was fatally shot during a clash with counterprotesters in Portland. The man was part of a motorcade that clashed with Black Lives Matter demonstrators and other protesters, with some members of the caravan firing paintballs and pepper spray into the crowd.
The Proud Boys mentioned the death of Aaron “Jay” Danielson in their permit application. They also mentioned Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old charged in the shooting deaths of two Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The governor used her emergency powers to give the Oregon State Police superintendent and the local sheriff the power to take charge of public safety in Portland for the weekend, a move that would restore the ability of law enforcement to use tear gas as a crowd-control measure.
The state police superintendent said there would be a “massive influx” of troopers in the city beginning Saturday morning.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, said on Twitter this week, “Violence has no home in Portland.”
The dueling protests in Portland come as tensions around the U.S. have once again escalated following the decision by a Kentucky grand jury this week not to charge any police officers in the killing of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, during a police raid at her home in March. One former Louisville officer was charged with first-degree wanton endangerment for gunshots that hit neighboring apartments.