Portland police, braced for possible violent clashes, manned barricades and metal detectors downtown Saturday as the right-wing group Patriot Prayer gathered for a rally amid boisterous counter-protesters in the third such face-off in two months.
The event also comes ahead of the one-year anniversary of the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August that deteriorated into clashes between protesters and counter-protesters and left one person dead.
People on both sides swarmed the area wearing protective pads or vests, many also wearing masks or covering themselves with bandanas. Police kept the two groups separated by barricades and by a street in front of the waterfront park.
Police warned via Twitter that no one carrying a rifle, shotgun or other long-gun in Tom McCall park, site of the rally.
At one point, police said on bullhorns that they had observed some people among the counter-protesters carrying weapons, and ordered a section of the event area cleared.
Police also said that any item, such as a flag pole, or a homemade shield, that could be used as a weapon, will be confiscated.
"I continue to strongly reject the idea that violence or hate speech are legitimate means to a political end," Mayor Ted Wheeler said on the eve of the event, adding that he and the Portland police chief "have serious concerns about the potential for violence" at the events.
As groups began to gather, a Patriot Prayer leader who identified himself only as "Tiny" told a KATU-TV reporter that he was there to "stand up for freedom and our constitution."
Wearing a partial mask and a black t-shirt that read "Pinochet did nothing wrong," Tiny said he and other supporters were wearing protective gear against counter-protesters.
"Last time I showed up without these, I got smashed with a wooden stick," "We are going to gear up."
"Unarmed people have been attacked for standing up for a president they support, just for standing up for freedom," he said.
The march, planned for months, has been organized by Joey Gibson, leader of the Patriot Prayer group, and a long-shot Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in the state of Washington.
It comes five weeks after clashes between left and right on June 30 in which both sides, including masked anti-fascist groups, battled in downtown Portland, pummeling and striking each other. Police declared the event a riot and revoked rally permits.
A similar Patriot Prayer event on June 4 devolved into fistfights and assaults by both sides as police struggled to keep the groups apart.
As supporters jostled among the crowds and media at the park, Gibson took a mic at one point to rally the already boisterous crowd, saying, "We are going to make change. We just keep going."
He said the group was there to express their views as guaranteed by the constitution, not to fight.
Gibson said in a live video on Facebook earlier this week that he won’t stop bringing his followers to Portland until they can express their right-wing views without interference.
“I refuse to do what Portland wants me to do because what Portland wants me to do is to shut up and never show up again," he said. "So yeah, I refuse to do that, but I will not stop going in, and I will not stop pushing, and I will not stop marching until the people of Portland realize that and realize that their methods do not work,” he said.
Organizers say that while Patriot Prayer denies being a white supremacist group, it affiliates itself with known white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazi gangs.
In addition, self-described anti-fascists – or “antifa” – have been organizing anonymously online to confront Patriot Prayer and an affiliated group, the Proud Boys, in the streets.
The Facebook page for Resist Patriot Prayer: Violent Alt-Right Bigots Off Our Streets," the group said it is willing to use physical force if necessary against "Joey and his Alt Right goons."
"History has shown that militant resistance is a necessary and important tool in the fight against fascism," the event page said. "We make no apologies for the use of force in keeping our communities safe from the scourge of right-wing violence. Make no mistake, these people are coming here with the intent to harm and threaten people."
Effie Baum, a spokesperson with Popular Mobilization, said her group was formed solely to mobilize counter-protesters for Saturday, OregonLive reports.
"One thing we all have in common is our opposition to white supremacy, transphobia and homophobia," said Baum said, according to OregonLive.
“Patriot Prayer is continuing to commit violence in our city, and their events are becoming more and more violent,” she said. “Leaving them a small group to attack in the streets is only going to allow them to perpetuate their violence.”
Contributing: The Associated Press