In Depth

Are far-right and anti-fascists set for showdown in Portland?

Fears of repeat of Charlottesville violence ahead of large-scale rally and counterprotest organised for Saturday

Portland is bracing for potential violence as right-wing demonstrators prepare to go head-to-head with anti-fascist protesters in the Oregon city this weekend.

A far-right march dubbed the “End Domestic Terrorism Rally” is due to take place on Saturday. The event is being organised and hosted by a former employee of InfoWars, which CNN describes as a “fringe media company run by a right-wing conspiracist”. 

The rally will be met with a counterprotest by members of Portland’s anti-fascist community, who have “issued an online call to followers to turn out to ‘defend Portland from a far-right attack’”, reports Fox News.

All of the city’s 1,000 police officers will be on duty during the protests, and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Police Chief Danielle Outlaw have warned anyone planning violence to stay away.

“Don’t come. We don’t want you here,” Outlaw said last week.

They have reason to be apprehensive. Clashes between an extremist “Unite the Right” rally and counterprotesters in the Virginia city of Charlottesville in 2017 ended with a far-right terrorist ramming his car into a crowd of people, killing one and injuring 19 others.

Which right-wing groups are descending on Portland and why?

According to local paper The Oregonian, Former InfoWars staffer Joe Biggs has teamed up with Enrique Tarrio, national head of far-right organisation the Proud Boys, to plan a rally that will kick off at 11am in Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

“An organiser said he expects up to 1,000 people show up for the event, which seeks to draw like-minded people from around the country as a show of force against self-described anti-fascists, or Antifa,” the newspaper reports.

The Associated Press claims those planning to attend are an “informal coalition of white nationalists, white supremacists and extreme-right militias”.

This group is honing “its focus on Oregon’s largest city as a stand-in for everything it feels is wrong with the US”, says the news agency, which adds that “at the top of that list are the masked and black-clad anti-fascists who turn out to violently oppose right-wing demonstrators as soon as they set foot in town”.

Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, says members of the nation’s “most scary extremist groups” are expected to attend, including the “the American Guard, the Three Percenters, the Oathkeepers and the Daily Stormers”.

And the counterprotesters?

Rose City Antifa, an anti-fascist group based in the city, has called on members to demonstrate on Saturday to counter the End Domestic Terrorism rally.

“Once again, the Far Right is coming to Portland to attempt to silence and terrorize vulnerable members of our community,” the group says on its Facebook page. “Our city is a target for right-wing attacks precisely because it is a symbol of progressive values.”

How likely is violence?

The police presence in Portland is expected to be larger and more organised than that in Charlottesville two years ago, but extreme language is helping to ramp up fears of violence.

CNN reports that rally leader Biggs is “known for his extreme rhetoric against Antifa members” and was suspended from Twitter recently for his provocative tweets, including messages reading “DEATH TO ANTIFA” and “Get a gun. [Buy] ammo. Get your gun license. Get training. Practice as much as you can and be ready because the left isn’t playing anymore and neither should we.” 

Randy Blazak, an expert on the history of hate groups in the US, has also warned that counterprotesters may be overly keen to incite violence. He claims that many people in Portland “oppose the right-wing rallies but also dislike the violent response of Antifa, which provides social media fodder for the far-right”.

“The opposition is playing right into the alt-right’s hands by engaging with them this way,” Blazak warns.

The left-wingers are also viewed with suspicion by many in the media.

This week, during an appearance on Fox News show The Ingraham Angle, US political commetator Jesse Watters claimed that Antifa “threatens to turn a West Coast city into a violent mess”, and warned viewers to “keep your head on a swivel” because “all hell’s going to break loose” on Saturday.

Meanwhile, local newspaper The Oregonian has shot back at threats of violence by far-right protesters by claiming that “in picking a fight with Antifa, they’ll get one”.

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