Far right groups gathered Sunday in Portland for an event they called the “Summer of Love,” even as the rally date was chosen to commemorate an extraordinarily violent clash last summer in the city. The event ended with a roving brawl along busy city streets in the Parkrose neighborhood, and shots being fired in downtown Portland. No one was reported injured in the shooting incident.
Anti-fascists and far left demonstrators gathered downtown early in the day to oppose the far right gathering. The two sides eventually clashed in Northeast Portland after remaining separate for hours, leaving a spree of violence that stretched blocks.
After the violence ended in Northeast Portland, a man fired a handgun at what appeared to be a group of anti-fascists downtown. Portland police moved in and arrested 65-year-old Dennis G. Anderson of Gresham. He was charged with unlawful use of a weapon and unlawful possession of a firearm.
Video posted online also appeared to show someone shooting back after the man opened fire. Information was not immediately available on what led to the shooting. Police said witnesses may have removed evidence from the scene before they arrived.
Early in the day, organizers of the far right event announced they were moving their rally from Waterfront Park in downtown to a commercial parking lot in Northeast Portland. Hundreds of people with the anti-fascist group congregated at Waterfront Park, despite the relocation.
Far right activists, meanwhile, set up a stage on a small trailer in the commercial parking lot along Northeast 122nd Avenue.
Photos and videos streamed online showed members of the Proud Boys — a frequently violent far right group — gathering and speaking at the conservative event. Among them was Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, who has been convicted of engaging in violence at protests.
“We’re not going to stand down,” Toese said. He added that his group was “not playing this time,” but said they did not have plans to leave the Northeast Portland location Sunday.
Various speakers on the Proud Boy stage referred to people charged in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol as “political prisoners.” As the demonstration continued, anti-fascists who had been at Waterfront Park began to gather outside the Proud Boys event.
Throughout the day, members of each side exchanged words and debated each other, but no notable violence had taken place for the first few hours of the gatherings. That changed just after 4 p.m., as the Proud Boys and anti-fascists ran along 122nd Avenue, exchanging paint balls and bear mace. Some people in the crowd threw mortar fireworks near a Chevron gas station, which had to close.
Members of the antifascist crowd shouted at local journalists who were following the melee. They then sprayed chemicals and paint at the journalists, and one local freelance photographer was attacked and injured.
Portland police did not show up as the two sides clashed.
Witnesses said the violence began when a white van attempted to pull into the parking lot where the “Summer of Love” event was taking place. Members of the Proud Boys later flipped the van over.
“This van right here that’s on its side tried pulling into the parking lot, and all these Proud Boys gate security started hitting it with bats and busting the windows out,” one witness, who did not want to be identified, told OPB.
The witness said people got out of the van and started to run away as Proud Boys attacked them.
“I saw this dude beating a woman. There was like two ladies that got hit. It was a nightmare, it was fucking terrifying,” they said.
The witness said they have lived in Portland for 15 years, and had been practicing driving in a nearby lot with another person. They decried the lack of police intervention in the violence that unfolded.
“If this was in Laurelhurst, this wouldn’t be happening,” the witness said, referring to a wealthy, inner Portland neighborhood. “They would have shut this shit down already.”
During the clashes, Proud Boys were also captured on video attacking people and vehicles they believed to be with the anti-fascists. After the groups disengaged from each other, Toese and other Proud Boys continued to drive around the Parkrose neighborhood shooting paintballs at people.
The Portland Police Bureau has frequently cited staffing shortages as a reason larger contingents of officers cannot separate groups that have historically engaged in political violence.
“The Portland Police Bureau is prepared to monitor this event and may make arrests for crimes when resources allow. That does not always happen in the moment,” the bureau said in a written statement Friday. “Just because arrests are not made at the scene, when tensions are high, does not mean that people are not being charged with crimes later.”
Speaking at a “choose love” online event Friday, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and other metro area leaders broadly condemned the political violence that has become routine in Portland.
Asked if unchecked political violence is inevitable, Wheeler said there are discussions online suggesting people planned to come to Portland on Sunday specifically to get into fights.
“We’re telling them, ‘Hell no,’” Wheeler said. “If they come here, if they engage in that type of activity, we’re going to do the best we can, with the resources we have available, to hold people accountable.”
Wheeler’s spokesperson, Sara Morrissey, said the mayor was aware of the clashes and that officers were within minutes of the clashes.
“Had the situation worsened, police would have taken action immediately,” Morrissey said. “Instead, they will be conducting follow up investigations, making arrests and forwarding cases to the Multnomah County District Attorney for prosecution.”
Eric Ward, executive director of the Western States Center, called Sunday’s events “deeply disturbing.” The group, which tracks right wing extremism, characterized the violence as predictable to those who had tracked the lead up to the demonstrations.
“The idea that Portland, or any city, can single handedly defeat white nationalism is a fallacy. This incident needs to be a wake-up call for elected leaders at every level,” Ward said in a written statement. “This is a national problem that demands national resources. Anti-democratic violence is a threat that strikes at the heart of who we are as a country. It’s time to act like it.”