By Jason Wilson Guardian News and Media
As Portland prepared for what may be one of the biggest political demonstrations of the US summer, which authorities expected would lead to violence, Donald Trump threw into the mix a characteristically explosive tweet.
“Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an ‘ORGANIZATION OF TERROR’,” the president wrote from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey yesterday morning.
“Portland is being watched very closely. Hopefully the Mayor will be able to properly do his job!”
‘Antifa’ is a collective term for a loose affiliation of anti-fascist groups.
Such counter-protesters have clashed with far right activists in the Oregon city throughout the Trump era, some of them wearing “black bloc” attire and face masks.
Texas Republican Ted Cruz has proposed a Senate resolution which would designate antifa as a domestic terrorist group.
The resolution says Rose City Antifa, a prominent group in Portland, as “explicitly rejects the authority of law enforcement officers in the United States”.
In Portland on Friday, longtime right-wing leader Joey Gibson turned himself in to city authorities.
Outside the Multnomah County Justice Center, Gibson told reporters, and his supporters via Facebook, the arrest warrant against him was “without a doubt an assault on the first amendment”.
“I have never been violent,” he said. The 35-year-old is one of six men associated with right-wing rallies in the city to be arrested or charged since August 7, relating to a violent incident on May 1 at Cider Riot, a bar favoured by the left.
Video shows men who have attended Gibson’s Patriot Prayer rallies in the city, and who arrived at the bar in his company, exchanging pepper spray with bar patrons, striking people with batons and fighting.
Gibson claimed the charges against him were “completely political. This is (Portland mayor) Ted Wheeler doing everything he can because he’s been caught.”
He accused Wheeler, a Democrat, of “coordinating with” and “protecting” anti-fascist demonstrators, a refrain in his speeches since 2017.
Gibson’s attorney, Multnomah county Republican chair James Buchal, said in a statement the charges were “part and parcel of the dishonest campaign by Portland leaders to blame out-of-town demonstrators for violence that began and persists because antifa wants to shut down any right-wing demonstrations in Portland”.
Asked via email if he thought the charges were timed in relation to the weekend rally, Buchal answered: “Yes.”
Gibson has organised protests in the city under the banner of the organization he founded, Patriot Prayer. Several have become violent.
Gibson’s critics have pointed to the presence at times of members of white nationalist groups like Identity Evropa and the PDX Stormers.
But above all the events have been characterised by the growing presence of the Proud Boys, a “western chauvinist” group.
The Proud Boys have played a leading role in the organisation of yesterday’s event.
The main promoter, Joe Biggs, is a Proud Boy, a combat veteran and a sometime presenter on the Infowars conspiracy channel.
Biggs has issued a series of threats to “antifa” in recent weeks, leading up to an event framed by the right as a response to the conservative writer Andy Ngo being ‘milkshaked’ and punched at a rally in Portland on June 29. The event’s Facebook page and a page started by Biggs following an initial ban were removed from the site on Friday.
That afternoon, Biggs posted to the encrypted messaging app Telegram photographs of he and other men lifting weights in a back yard.
City authorities spent the day fortifying the waterfront area where attendees at the un-permitted ‘Amend Domestic Terrorism’ rally are expected to face counter-protesters.
In the afternoon, the Portland Bureau of Transportation began ferrying in concrete barriers.
In a press conference, Portland Police Bureau (PPB) spokeswoman Lt Tina Jones said it had been assessed that the event was likely to be “beyond the resources” of her department, even though all leave had been cancelled for the day.
PPB issued a list of partner agencies helping with enforcement, crowd management and preparation. It included police departments statewide, Oregon state police, the FBI and various municipal authorities.
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