Left and Right Portland Street Mobs Engage in Pointless, Performative Violence

A depressing exemplar of politics in 2018


 'Tiny' Tusitala Toese
John Rudoff/Polaris/Newscom

Downtown Portland became something of a war zone yesterday afternoon when left- and right-wing mobs clashed in the streets.

On Sunday, Patriot Prayer—a trollish right-wing group that delights in taking its vague flag-waving message to the heart of liberal West Coast cities—held an impromptu rally in Portland's Terry Shrunk Plaza, where they encountered violent resistance from the left-wing group Rose City Antifa.

Though it is not an alt-right group itself, Patriot Prayer's rallies have become notorious for their tendency to attract all sorts of right-wing crazies, including Proud Boys, III Percenters, and Nazi-leaning Identity Evropa types. A few days after one of its rallies last year, one attendee—Jeremy Christian—killed two people on a Portland train when they objected Christian's harassment of a hijab-wearing teenager.

Follow-up 2017 rallies sparked violent counter-demonstrations, street brawls, and an aggressive crackdown from riot-gear-wearing Portland police.

Yesterday played out much the same way.

Willamette Week reports that the violence started around 5 p.m., with both groups trading blows, chucking rocks, and employing liberal amounts of pepper spray.

About 300 people participated in the brawl, with the lefties in the majority. Freelance journalist Mike Bivins captured a lot of the madness on Twitter:

Sunday's brawl was relatively tame by last year's standards, drawing fewer people than Patriot Prayer's biggest 2017 rallies.

Law enforcement was more restrained as well. Last summer's protests saw riot police using flash bangs and detaining demonstrators en masse (earning a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union). Yesterday, by contrast, police mostly hung back as small skirmishes broke out.

Four people were arrested, according to Portland police spokesperson Sgt. Chris Burley, who said that more may follow in the coming days.

Despite the diminished scale, yesterday's events felt depressingly emblematic of politics in the year 2018, when performative battles can completely obscure whatever issue is supposedly being debated. Indeed, the reason for yesterday's Patriot Prayer rally was not to take a stand for some policy or cause—it was to bid farewell to group member Tusitala "Tiny" Toese, who is leaving Portland to return to his native American Samoa. What better excuse for a street brawl?