• Thu. Mar 4th, 2021

Portland Prepares for Violent Showdowns, Proud Boys and Tear Gas – The New York Times

PORTLAND, Ore. — Over the past few years, the streets of Portland have become an arena for polarized political conflict, with far-right groups from around the country bringing guns, flags, bulletproof vests and an eagerness to confront the city’s leftist activists.

After a series of escalating conflicts between opposing factions this summer that involved gunfire from both directions, the city is set to become a stage again on Saturday, when the Proud Boys, a far-right group notorious for engaging in brawls, descend once more on Portland, perhaps in numbers larger than ever before.

Authorities have expressed widespread alarm about the expected clash, as there is talk of further escalation by some members of the Proud Boys. Some members have touted their efforts to buy shields and tactical gear.

“The pattern of these particular groups is clear: to intimidate, instigate and inflame,” said Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon, who on Friday declared a state of emergency that will bring more law enforcement agencies to the scene and allow authorities to use tear gas.

In the run-up to the presidential election, now less than 40 days away, the nation’s divisive political scene has increasingly spilled from social media into the streets.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

In Louisville, Ky., the grand jury decision to not indict police officers for the killing of Breonna Taylor has reignited fury over the laws and systems that shield the police from accountability.

“Until those officers are fired from this department, I promise you we will continue to make these streets hot,” Tamika D. Mallory, an activist, said at a Friday news conference alongside Ms. Taylor’s mother, the family’s legal team and other supporters.

While Mayor Greg Fischer has imposed a curfew and the police have blocked off access to downtown, hundreds have continued to publicly protest the grand jury’s decision.

The developments in Louisville also prompted people nationwide to return to the streets in protest, echoing the message of the mass demonstrations that involved millions after the Minneapolis police killed George Floyd in May.

President Trump has stoked the tensions of race and policing while building a law-and-order message for his re-election bid. In Portland, where the president has sought to label the city’s antifascist activists as domestic terrorists, the Proud Boys have described their event on Saturday as a rally to “end domestic terrorism.”

Credit…Mason Trinca for The New York Times

Law enforcement agencies spent the week struggling to prepare for the gathering and counterprotests, which include an event organized by a local antifa collective and another event organized by Black activists. Under orders from the mayor, the Portland Police Bureau was prohibited from using tear gas, which led some agencies to resist sending support.

“You ask for O.S.P. crowd control units to police an element that is well known to have violent interactions — including the carrying, display and use of firearms,” the Oregon State Police superintendent, Travis Hampton, wrote in an email to leaders in the Portland Police Bureau that partially denied an aid request.

But on Friday, Ms. Brown used emergency powers to order that Superintendent Hampton and the local sheriff take control of public safety in the city for the weekend. That decision will restore the use of tear gas, even for Portland police officers, and Superintendent Hampton said the city would see a “massive influx” of state troopers.

The goal, authorities said, was to keep the groups separated from each other, which officers have struggled to do this summer, as opposing events have featured fistfights, paintball guns and clouds of mace.

In mid-August, authorities say, a right-wing demonstrator fired his gun twice from his vehicle but did not strike anybody. A week later, amid open clashes in the streets between opposing factions, a right-wing activist pointed his gun at the crowd across from him. The following week, a pro-Trump caravan that planned to drive around the outskirts of the city’s downtown instead went into the city center.

It was at that third event where authorities say Michael Forest Reinoehl, an antifa supporter who had provided security at the demonstrations, fatally shot Aaron J. Danielson, an activist with the far-right group Patriot Prayer. Mr. Reinoehl was later killed by authorities in Washington State.

Last month, as the two sides were openly fighting in the streets, the police stayed out of the fray, later explaining that they did not have enough personnel to get in the middle. Asked what is stopping an open firefight from developing, Chief Chuck Lovell of the Portland police said, “I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

The Proud Boys, labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, are self-described “western chauvinists” who have espoused misogynistic and anti-Islam messages; they frequently engage in violent conflicts and celebrate footage of those scenes.

Enrique Tarrio, who leads the Proud Boys, said that he welcomed the expanded law enforcement presence and that he wanted to see that kind of effort for the protesters who have operated in the city. Mr. Tarrio said that between 200 and 300 Proud Boys were in the Portland area for the event on Saturday and that he expected many hundreds of other people to participate as well.

Credit…Xavier Burrell for The New York Times

Mr. Tarrio has said publicly that anyone planning to commit violence should stay away from the event, but when pressed about whether the environment he was creating would attract people looking for violence, he acknowledged that it likely would.

“I’d be stupid to say that I don’t expect someone to come in with some type of nefarious motives,” he said. “The moment that we see it, we will say something. We will be pointing that out to the authorities.”

In Louisville, right-wing groups have also returned to the streets, with militia members carrying rifles and standing outside downtown businesses. It was a scene that paralleled recent events in Kenosha, Wis., where 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse has been charged in the killing of two people after he arrived in the city with a rifle and vowed to protect businesses from demonstrators, who were protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

On Friday, family and lawyers of Ms. Taylor took aim at the Kentucky attorney general, demanding that he release further evidence of his role in a case that culminated this week when a grand jury indicted one officer for his role in the botched raid on Ms. Taylor’s home but declined to press charges against the two police officers who shot her.

“Release the transcripts!” the group shouted, standing in a square in downtown Louisville and wearing face masks featuring Ms. Taylor’s name.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the grand jury’s decision, Ms. Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, released a statement denouncing Daniel Cameron, a rising Republican star and the first Black attorney general in Kentucky history, for being on the “wrong side of the law.”

“He knew he had the power to do the right thing,” she said in a statement, which was read by Bianca Austin, Ms. Taylor’s aunt. “He had the power to start the healing of this city. He had the power to help mend over 400 years of oppression. What he helped me realize is it will always be us against them. We are never safe.”

Sarah Mervosh contributed reporting from New York, and John Eligon from Louisville, Ky.