Hundreds clash in Portland as Proud Boys rally descends into violence

A rightwing protest in Portland on Sunday has culminated in a gunfight, when antifascist demonstrators returned fire at a man who shot at them with a handgun in a downtown street.

Related: Portland officials and progressives unite to oppose far-right protest

The firefight took place in the heart of downtown Portland, soon after 6pm. As antifascists followed a man at a distance whom they were trying to eject from the area, he took cover behind a solar-powered trashcan, produced a handgun and opened fire. He fired at least two shots before an antifascist returned fire with their own handgun. At least seven shots were fired.

Portland police bureau confirmed that a man had been arrested over the shooting but did not have any information on any injuries.

The incident came after a day of protest descended into running clashes involving hundreds of protesters and counterprotesters.

Earlier that afternoon, in the city’s suburban east, Proud Boys discharged rounds from airsoft guns, while antifascists threw firework munitions, and both sides exchanged clouds of choking Mace and countless blows in a chaotic running street battle that lasted the better part of an hour.

Mace and smoke filled the air in suburban Portland on Sunday.
Mace and smoke filled the air in suburban Portland on Sunday. Photograph: Nathan Howard/Getty Images

The earlier confrontation, which began around 4pm in the carpark of an abandoned Kmart where about 200 members of far-right groups had staged a rally billed as a “summer of love” event, later spilled out onto a busy arterial road and the carpark of nearby Parkrose high school.

It began when a group of around 30 antifascists – almost all clad in “black bloc” attire – walked past the rightwing rally at 4pm and Proud Boys gave chase. The forecourt of a neighboring gas station and a convenience store were soon racked by explosions and gas-propelled airsoft projectiles.

The two sides briefly disengaged at about 4.15pm, and street medics on both sides attended to participants who had been beaten, shot or overcome by Mace.

Soon, however, traffic was intermittently brought to a halt on busy NE 122nd Ave as the renewed battle stretched across the street and into the grounds of the high school.

There, Proud Boys set upon a small pickup truck, smashing windows, slashing tires, scattering the vehicle’s cargo of bottled water and severely beating the male occupant.

When antifascists retreated from the carpark, Proud Boys erupted into chants of “Whose streets? Our streets!”

A member of the far-right group the Proud Boys aims a paintball gun while leaving a demonstration with a Statue of Liberty replica in the bed of the truck.
A member of the far-right group the Proud Boys aims a paintball gun while leaving a demonstration with a Statue of Liberty replica in the bed of the truck. Photograph: Nathan Howard/Getty Images

Back at the carpark, another vehicle was turned on its side and spraypainted with the letters “FAFO”, an acronym for the Proud Boys catch cry, “fuck around and find out”.

Returning from the high school at about 5pm, Proud Boys began to leave the rally venue. From a red pickup truck men fired airsoft guns at a small number of antifascists gathered at the entrance of the carpark, and then one of them trained his weapon at a group of reporters.

The Proud Boys announced their intention to cross the Columbia River, and the Washington state line, to regroup at a city park in Vancouver.

Even before the black-clad group arrived, the rally had already departed from its avowedly peaceful intentions after Proud Boys and other participants streamed away from the speakers platform – bedecked with a giant American flag and an 8ft replica of the Statue of Liberty – to confront a group of three women who were waving placards opposing the protest.

In downtown streets, and during the suburban fracas, Portland police were nowhere to be seen, until the exchange of fire near 2nd Street and Taylor brought forth dozens of officers in cruisers, who arrested the suspected gunman and blocked surrounding streets.

Asked about their absence in the Parkrose confrontation, a spokesperson for the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) repeated in an email the advice that police chief Chuck Lovell had given in the days leading up to the clashes.

“As the chief stated before the event today, people should keep themselves apart and avoid physical confrontation,” the spokesperson wrote, adding that arrests may not be made in the moment, and may come in succeeding days.

Mayor urges protesters to ‘choose love’

The 2pm rightwing rally in the city’s outer north-east had been moved from its original venue on downtown Portland’s waterfront to its suburban location after antifascists began publicly mobilizing to oppose it.

Many of those antifascists maintained their focus on the original planned location for the rightwing rally on Portland’s downtown waterfront, with around 200 attending the site.

While those activists were watchful but mostly peaceful in the early afternoon, at the fringes of the event, some people who fell under activists’ suspicion were confronted. One man on a bicycle was Maced, and two street preachers from Kent, Washington, were chased from the vicinity of the park.

On Sunday, many proud boys were open-carrying handguns and armed with batons, bottles of chemical spray and baseball bats, while at least one man carried a pickaxe handle emblazoned with the Proud Boys insignia.

In the lead-up to the rallies, Portland mayor Ted Wheeler, other elected officials and a number of progressive nonprofits urged protesters to “choose love” in a virtual rally and press conferences.

One of those nonprofits is the Western States Center. In a press release issued after the day’s events, that organization’s executive director, Eric Ward, demanded that “elected leaders from our neighboring jurisdictions, our state and our federal government” assist in helping Portland deal with the far-right incursions into the city which have recurred since the beginning of the Trump era.

“The idea that Portland, or any city, can single handedly defeat white nationalism is a fallacy,” Ward added.