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Hundreds gather in Portland for dueling rallies between Proud Boys and counter demonstrators

Proud Boys rally in Portland, Oregon
Proud Boys rally in Portland, Oregon 00:24

Hundreds of people gathered in Portland, Oregon, for dueling rallies, one held by far-right group Proud Boys and the other counter demonstration by leftwing groups. There were few arrests and citations, although police said they were searching for a suspect believed to have assaulted a person live-streaming the events.

CBS Portland affiliate KOIN reported there were about 200 people, many wearing militarized body armor, at the Proud Boys rally, along with a heavy police presence. There was a much larger crowd of counter-protesters at another park.

"I think where the line has to be drawn and there should be zero tolerance is when people commit acts of violence on other people because of their political views,"  Enrique Tarrio, the chairman of the Proud Boys, told KOIN. He traveled from Miami to Oregon for this because he feels "like Portland is the epicenter for all the issues we're having across the country."

Carol Leek of Oregon Women for Trump told the crowd they had to fight against "Black supremacy," KOIN reported. "This is a war folks, and we have got to fight back," she said.

Portland Protests
A right-wing demonstrator, right, gestures toward a counter protester as members of the Proud Boys and other right-wing demonstrators rally on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Portland, Ore.About 200 people gathered in Portland, for a right-wing rally, dozens of them wearing militarized body armor. It was far fewer than the thousands expected to appear. John Locher / AP

The event began around noon and dispersed by 3 p.m. Oregon Governor Kate Brown had declared a state of emergency ahead of Saturday's event. The Proud Boys are a designated hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center

"As we head into the weekend, we are aware that white supremacist groups from out of town, including the Proud Boys, are planning a rally on Saturday in Portland," Brown said in a statement Friday. "Significant crowds of people are expected to join — some people will be armed, with others ready to harass or intimidate Oregonians. Many are from out of state. These types of demonstrations in the past have often ended in fistfights, and sometimes escalated to bloodshed."

Counter-protesters, meanwhile, told KOIN they wanted to stand against white supremacy and fascism and to show Portland is a peaceful city.

"I mean, I'm non-violent. I don't want to fight anybody," Gerry Foote said. "I thought maybe some people like me should come out and just say what I need to say."

In a statement late Saturday afternoon, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler thanked the police and law enforcement partners for making sure "the demonstrations have remained largely peaceful throughout the day. It's testimony to the collaborative planning and preparation Portland Police did with our local, state and federal partners. … As the evening unfolds, I urge people to remain peaceful. We will do everything possible to hold those who break the law accountable. Violence is not welcome in Portland."  

The confluence of ideologies is nothing new for Portland, which has been host to continuous protests against police violence and systemic racism since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May. Nevertheless, Governor Brown said the state is deploying a special law enforcement plan to handle this weekend's expected tensions. 

"The Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer groups have come to Portland time and again, from out of town, looking for a fight, and the results are always tragic," Brown said. "Let me be perfectly clear: We will not tolerate any kind of violence this weekend."

The governor's plan allows Oregon State Police and the sheriff in charge of public safety in Portland to use tear gas if lives are at risk, and allows dozens more officers to be deployed in their effort to keep the groups apart and avoid bloodshed, KOIN reports. Brown said her intention is to "keep the peace and protect free speech."

"In America, we have the right to peacefully assemble, and everyone in Oregon has a right to express themselves freely — even those who the vast majority of Oregonians would deeply disagree with," she said. "However, the First Amendment does not give anyone license to hurt or kill someone because of opposing political views."

"When free expression is fueled by hate, and coupled with an intention to incite violence, then I need to do everything I can as Governor to ensure the public safety of Oregonians." 

The governor added, "we will not tolerate that violence and tragedy this weekend. Violence is never the answer. Violence never brings anyone over to your side. Instead, violence only deepens divisions."

Portland has seen protests against police violence for months, marking 100 consecutive nights of protests in early September. The situation there has drawn attention from Mr. Trump, who sent federal agents to the city over the summer. 

City officials said the nightly demonstrations were dwindling when the Department of Homeland Security decided on July 4 to increase its presence around Portland's federal courthouse after a small group of people shattered a glass door at the federal building.

The law enforcement escalation — at one point ballooning to include at least 114 federal officers — was followed by an increase in arrests and violence in the city. Dozens more protesters, journalists and federal agents were injured. 

Portland never requested federal help. Mayor Ted Wheeler wrote in an open letter to President Trump on August 28 that the city condemns any looting, arson and vandalism, but said sending in federal officers "made the situation far worse."

"We don't need your politics of division and demagoguery," Wheeler wrote to the president. "Portlanders are onto you... we know you've reached the conclusion that images of violence or vandalism are your only ticket to reelection."

Caroline Linton contributed to this report.

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