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Street Violence From Portland Proud Boys Fuels More Concerns Over Use of Weapons at Rallies

A gunfight in Portland, Oregon, last weekend is intensifying concerns over escalating violence during contentious rallies in the city, as far-right demonstrators and anti-fascist counter-protesters have repeatedly faced off. On Sunday afternoon, about 200 Proud Boys and members of other far-right groups clashed with a smaller group of anti-fascists near an abandoned Kmart in the city’s outer northeast. The confrontation became a running street battle, with participants fist-fighting and attacking each other with pepper spray. At one point on Sunday, a firework thrown by an anti-fascist exploded in the forecourt of a gas station, raising alarm on all sides of the confrontation.

The Portland Police Bureau (PPB) charged a 65-year-old man from Gresham, Oregon, over a gunfight in the city’s downtown during violent clashes on Sunday. Authorities say Dennis Anderson drew a concealed handgun and shot at a group of anti-fascists who were trying to expel him from the area. At least one of the anti-fascists shot back, according to authorities, with seven shots exchanged between the two sides.

 

Proud Boys and members of other far-right groups openly displayed handguns during the protest, and the shootout fueled the growing concern about the presence of firearms at rallies taking place across the US. But other violent incidents in Portland on Sunday showed how participants have also increasingly adopted less lethal, but still dangerous, technologies as weapons for political street fighting. The PPB Chief, Chuck Lovell, announced in repeated statements in advance of the unpermitted rally that protesters “should not expect to see police officers standing in the middle of the crowd trying to keep people apart”. The tactic gave rally-goers and counter-protesters free rein, while employees of businesses located near the fracas told local media that they felt abandoned by law enforcement.

Some Proud Boys, on the other hand, were carrying airsoft guns, replica firearms that fire pellets with compressed air and are usually used in recreational combat games or combat training. The use of airsoft and paintball guns, just like any weapon, can be prosecuted when they are used to threaten others. Earlier this month, a Portland resident was arrested for pointing an airsoft weapon at a journalist, under a statute that penalizes the misuse of “dangerous or deadly weapons”. But they are not subject to any specific federal or state laws, and nor are they covered by firearms laws.

Those weapons, along with paintball guns, first made an appearance during clashes in August 2020, when a group of far-right brawlers used them to shoot gas-propelled pellets at a far larger group of leftwing protesters. Participants had planned for weeks to employ the devices in a way that maximized their destructive impact. Since then, the weapons have been used at every Portland protest where far-right groups have shown up, including last August, when passengers in vehicles participating in a pro-Donald Trump truck convoy shot pedestrians with the devices. Hours after those vehicle attacks, Jay Danielson, a supporter of Patriot Prayer, a far-right street protest group that made high-profile incursions into Portland throughout the Trump era, was shot dead by a self-identified anti-fascist, Michael Reinoehl. Reinoehl himself was later shot dead by police in Lacey, Washington.

 

Between January 2020 and July 2021, Portland saw 128 demonstrations that were violent and/or destructive, amounting to 31% of the total number of demonstrations in the city in that period. This was more than 10 times higher than the national average of 3% of demonstrations becoming violent or destructive.

In the same time period, Portland saw 21 armed demonstrations – about 4% of all armed demonstrations across the country in that time. Fourteen of those – or 67% – turned violent or destructive in that period, whereas only 16% of armed demonstrations did in the country as a whole.



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