On Saturday, a protest held by the far right Patriot Prayer group and the Proud Boys, an organization characterized as a hate group that was started by VICE news co-founder Gavin McInnes, drew a crowd of between 400 and 500 sympathetic demonstrators, co-chair of the Portland branch of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) Olivia Katbi Smith, told Sputnik News Monday. "Over a thousand" counter-demonstrators, local organisers told Sputnik.
While clashes between the left and right-wing demonstrators were widely anticipated, no major confrontations between the sides actually broke out. Instead, the majority of the violence was handed down by law enforcement and directed towards anti-fascist activists, or antifa, as depicted in videos posted to social media.
The Portland police were responsible for the majority of the violence, Katbi Smith said. "We had been chanting, peacefully protesting all day long, but the Portland police had a huge presence. They were in riot gear, lined up on both sides, sort of keeping us separated from the Patriot Prayer supporters who were across the street," she said. "On both sides, the police had their backs to them and they were facing us. That made it clear, right away, who they were there to protect."
— Christopher Mathias (@letsgomathias) August 4, 2018
Nearly all on-duty police officers in Portland were deployed to the protest and non-emergency calls were halted in order to keep resources directed toward the demonstrations, local news outlet KPTV reported.
"The Patriot Prayer people moved at one point away from the waterfront and went into downtown, so our whole crowd followed them, and when we caught up with them, we had regrouped, we were standing there chanting again. The folks with black bloc were upfront and they had their banners," Katbi Smith told Sputnik News, referring to protesters who dress entirely in black and with masks on to avoid being identified by right wingers or police and face reprisal.2.
— 🏴 cats hate fascists ⚧ (@Anarkitt) August 5, 2018
"We were literally just standing there, chanting, and the police suddenly launched crowd control weapons, including flash grenades which injured several people and totally dispersed us," she said. "We ran away and we were separated while they protected Patriot Prayer."
PPB Chief Danielle Outlaw confirmed the use of "flash bangs," as well as pepper balls, or small grenades that dispense pepper spray, an irritant, and other so-called "less-than-lethal" rounds.
While it has been widely reported that police used flash bang grenades, photographs appear to show sting-ball grenades, not flash bangs — which are more frequently used by police during demonstrations. Sting-balls emit a burst of white light similar to a flash bang, but also shoot out rubber bullets into the radius surrounding its burst. Police also appear to have used 40mm impact rounds.
— Christopher Mathias (@letsgomathias) August 4, 2018
In video from the protests, police can be heard on loudspeakers accusing protesters of throwing rocks. Reporter Eder Campuzano was bloodied by what he said was a soaring water bottle.
One protester was hit in the head with one of the rounds, reported to be a flash bang. It penetrated the helmet he was wearing and would have killed him had he not been wearing one, according to a source in contract with the man and his girlfriend who spoke with Raw Story. Another woman was taken to the hospital after she was struck by a "flash bang" according to local media. She was "burned badly," Katbi Smith said.
— PDX Mike Bivins (@itsmikebivins) August 4, 2018
Such munitions "are lethal," she added, disputing the oft-repeated "less-than-lethal" police jargon used to refer to crowd control devices.
Assistant Chief of the Portland Police Bureau's Operations Branch Ryan Lee told reporters on Friday that officers were trained to fire the devices at 15 degrees over the crowd.
"Some of our members saw the grenades being launched at a very low level," Katbi Smith added. Another DSA member, who didn't want to be identified fearing he'd be targeted by Patriot Prayer, wrote to Sputnik News that a police officer "was shooting AT protesters."
— Naysayer 🌹 (@Carrion_Crawl) August 4, 2018
Police "brutalized" counter-protesters, Katbi Smith said. "It was terrifying. Just the sounds of flash grenades — and that many, going off in a row — it sounds like a warzone. It's terrifying."
The ACLU called on PPB, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Outlaw to immediately end the use of weapons, munitions, and explosives against protesters."
The local DSA chapter and the Oregon chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said in a joint statement that PPB "targeted Portland residents peacefully counter-protesting against racist far-right groups, including white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-Nazi gangs." They also called for an investigation.
Following condemnation of disparate repression conducted by PPB, Outlaw said in a written statement, "I take all force applications by members seriously and I have directed the Professional Standards Division to begin the intake process regarding these allegations to determine if force was used and if so, was within our policy and training guidelines."
— PDX Mike Bivins (@itsmikebivins) August 6, 2018
Portland is accustomed to violent protests, but in recent months people who have been hospitalized have been injured by Patriot Prayer and affiliates, not by police.
In the face of that dual threat, Katbi Smith says it's important to protest anyway. "I think the people who say that the fascists will go away if we ignore them, they're wrong. They will grow and they will continue to recruit." Patriot Prayer is a "traveling fascist caravan, this is what they do, they travel around the country spreading their hateful message."
"The only thing that can stop a crowd of fascists is a bigger crowd of anti-fascists, telling them that they are not welcome in our city."