Since early last year, the far-right groups Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys have held more than a dozen rallies throughout the Pacific Northwest under the banner of “freedom” — and with talk of bringing weapons and declarations that “this is war,” members are threatening to make next weekend’s march the most combustible yet.
Update: Since this story was originally published last week, Patriot Movement AZ announced they were dropping out of the Portland and Berkeley rallies. Instead, they will be holding their own event in Tucson called “Refuse Alt-Left Fascism.” The status of the August 5 rally in Berkeley is uncertain after a rash of infighting and an announcement from Gavin McInnes that the Proud Boys “DISAVOW” the event. Berkeley rally organizer Amber Gwen Cummings still plans to hold the event, but has warned attendees it “is not gonna be someplace you're gonna be safe.” Joey Gibson condemned Cummings’ original decision to include the American Guard in the Berkeley rally, but will still attend.
Gibson also made explicit Patriot Prayer’s intention to attend the Portland rally fully armed. “We’ve always had guns at the rally,” he said. “Everyone should be carrying around guns at all times, especially people in our situation.”
These events have always been about exhibiting machismo, but — as political divisions in the country have grown — they’ve developed a more targeted purpose: far-right activists taking out their aggression on political opponents. As Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes once put it, “Fighting solves everything.”
Or, as their slogan goes, “F--- around and find out.”
The glorification of violence was indisputable late last month, when the Proud Boys found a new hero on the streets of Portland. At a rally hosted by Patriot Prayer, 28-year-old Ethan Nordean — a burly member of the “Western chauvinist” group who goes by the moniker Rufio Panman in a reference to Stephen Spielberg’s Peter Pan film Hook — knocked out a black-clad counter-protester in a single swift punch.
A video of the hit went viral, landing Panman a chummy interview with McInnes and another with Alex Jones on Infowars. It even earned praise from those who normally mock the Proud Boys for their bizarre conventions: matching black-and-yellow polos, rules against masturbation and initiation rituals that include screaming the names of breakfast cereals while being beaten by fellow members. “I’m never makin fun of proudboys again,” Jesse Dunstan, co-host of the white supremacist podcast “The Daily Shoah,” tweeted in response to Nordean’s punch.
On Patriot Prayer’s private Facebook page, a member rejoiced as he speculated about the medical consequences the counter-protester suffered, writing that after video ended, the person began “having a seizure and I’m like good!” Another responded, “play stupid games, win stupid prizes.”
Nine people were arrested at the event. The Portland police declared it a riot after deploying flash grenades to break up the brawling crowd of far-right marchers and anti-fascist counter-protesters.
The June 30 melee, which featured violence that echoed last summer’s rally in Charlottesville, has galvanized Patriot Prayer, the Proud Boys, far-right activists and keyboard warriors around the country. Convinced that returning for another rally is the only way to counter the left-wing menace they see plaguing Portland — a city Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson recently said was “disgusting” and filled “with so much darkness” — Patriot Prayer has scheduled another rally for August 4.
The next Charlottesville?
This time, the conceit remains the same but the potential for violence may be greater. As they have done for many prior rallies, Patriot Prayer (a group Gibson says he founded in 2016 to counter allegedly rampant street violence against Trump supporters) has preemptively declared any violence an act of self-defense.
But the group intends to create a combustible situation where brawls against counter-protesters are virtually guaranteed. As they’ve done before, Gibson and the Proud Boys can then hold up these clashes as evidence of rampant left-wing violence that supports the right-wing conspiracy that the left is out to start a civil war.
Left-wing protesters, Gibson said in a recent speech, “are literally foaming at the mouth with pure hatred toward us, and it is spiritual.”
If, as Gibson insists, the upcoming rally is both an exercise in free speech and a campaign event for his U.S. Senate run, then the decision to get “suited and booted,” as one Proud Boy put it, and march through Portland is an odd choice. Gibson doesn’t even live there, but in Vancouver, Washington — the state he is hoping to represent in the Senate. What Portland does have is a reputation for being one of the most liberal cities in the country, as well as a large contingent of anti-fascists who will turn out to face them in the streets.
The plan for this rally is different: Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys do not expect to be disarmed by law enforcement like they were at the last event. Open carry is legal in Oregon, even without a concealed carry permit.
Patriot Prayer also intends to keep the event location secret. Gibson has stated that the rally will be downtown, though not in Terry Schrunk Plaza, a federally owned park where Patriot Prayer usually holds their events. Guns are prohibited in federally owned facilities in Oregon.
In addition to Proud Boys who will be bused in from Vancouver, a number of other groups from outside the state are planning to attend. Those include anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim outfit Patriot Movement AZ and the Hiwaymen from Arkansas, a group led by “Confederate Patriot” Billy Sessions that attended the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Even far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has said he may attend.
The combination of violent rhetoric, promotion by far-right media figures and growing interest from extremist groups around the country threatens to turn Portland into the next Charlottesville.
After the Portland rally, Gibson and many members of the Proud Boys plan to travel to Berkeley, California, for a “No to Marxism in America” rally on August 5 — some via buses they’ve chartered to transport people from one rally to the next. Both groups also plan to participate in nationwide protests on August 18, called the “National March Against Far-Left Violence.”
“We’re gonna have to get some swollen fists”
The Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer members have taken on a markedly more aggressive tone in the aftermath of the June 30 rally. “There will come a day when antifa will meet their match: about 30 guys or more with AR15s with bum [sic] stocks,” a poster wrote on a Patriot Prayer Facebook page after the rally.
“NOT me,” he continued, “because I don’t condone violence. I’m just laying down a prediction.”
Gabe Silva, a leader of the Sacramento Proud Boys who is a regular at right-wing rallies on the West Coast, made a frank call for violence in a Facebook video he streamed days after he attended the June Portland rally. The little political substance in Silva’s rambling 32-minute video, which he captioned “Portland… the game has changed,” centered on his opposition to communism and belief that antifa — the bogeyman of the far right — has some nefarious plot to spread it throughout the U.S.
But Silva’s vague complaints about “universal moralism,” “gender fluidity” and high taxes were overshadowed by his repeated insistence that violence is the only way forward and, in fact, inevitable. “The time is now. We’re gonna have to get some swollen fists. We’re gonna have to get some swollen fists. We’re gonna have to fight, alright?” he said.
“Guess what antifa?” Silva continued, “We are pissed off Americans. We’re coming for you. We’re not playing no games no more. You like what we served up? We got more where that’s coming from.” He repeatedly bragged about their apparent victory in the streets of Portland and, numerous times, declared, “This is war.”
Though Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys claim to fiercely believe in free speech, Silva’s tirade uncovered a major caveat in their defense of the First Amendment. What they want is to be able to speak without consequence, but they don’t believe those same rules should apply to their political opponents, who should fear reprisal — sometimes in the form of violence — when they shout back.
“We’re coming at you,” Silva said. “You’re not gonna run your mouth about communism to us without getting smacked.”
Perhaps realizing his angry speech belied the Proud Boys’ oft-repeated argument that they only act in self-defense, Silva has since removed the video from Facebook (despite declaring at the end, “I said what I said, and I believe it with all my heart!”).
The “green light”
Others, including Gibson, have helped fuel the “patriots’” belief that they alone can save the liberal Pacific Northwest. In a Facebook video about the upcoming rally, Gibson told his followers that the police intend to treat the event as “mutual combat,” meaning that each side willingly engages in the fight and, therefore, will not be given police protection.
In response, Jen Loh of San Antonio, who helps coordinate with Patriot Prayer while running an organization called Texans United for America, took Gibson’s post as proof that the police had essentially given them permission to engage in violence. “[I]t means that if you show up to a fight that means your [sic] willing and there is no law broken,” she posted on Facebook. “So either you stand up and take that dam [sic] green light you’ve been given or stay home and let it spill over to your own city.”
Portland public information officer Sergeant Christopher Burley told Hatewatch the Portland Police Bureau “will intervene to the best of its ability whenever there is a life/safety issue.” Burley sidestepped a question about Gibson’s characterization of the event as “mutual combat.”
“Crowd management events are complex incidents that require a balance of many different interests and factors,” he said instead, adding that officers “are not able to immediately appear wherever a violent act may be occurring.”
Because the Police Bureau does not know what venue will be used for the August 4 rally, Burley said they could not comment on whether rally attendees would be disarmed by law enforcement at a security checkpoint, as they were at the last two Patriot Prayer rallies.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation confirmed Gibson has not sought a permit for his march. Telephone messages left Tuesday with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's office and emails to Sen. Jeff Merkley's office were not returned, nor were phone and email messages to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler's office. The Federal Protective Service in Oregon and the Department of Homeland Security also did not return calls or emails.
Patriot Prayer’s private Facebook page has been replete with references to violence since the June 30 rally, when its membership began to tick upward. There are now more than 1,200 members, roughly 200 of whom have joined in the past few weeks.
One poster created a poll that presented the group with three options: “Arm the group and train,” “Don’t arm the group but train,” and “Don’t arm the group and don’t train.” About an hour after it was posted, 15 had elected to arm the group, seven believed they should only train and one voted to do neither. “I’ve always been pro training and arming folks,” a poster responded. “Close quarter street fighting, riot control & shield tactics.”
In another post, members discussed tagging counter-protesters with dye or spray paint so they could be identified later. They mused about creating a “spray team” using skunk spray. One man suggested they should “brainstorm abiut [sic] pepper spray delegate outside park.” “I’m telling you,” one particularly sadistic member wrote, “food dye in sugar water. The insects will f------ love it. Also you can soak habanero peppers in the sugar water overnight to make the experience really interesting.”
In a comment on one of his videos, Silva said marchers would carry bear spray on them since the police would not be disarming them before the event.
“What it’s gonna take”
Andrew Allwander, who posts under the name “Jim Baker,” has championed violence in the private Patriot Prayer group. A martial arts instructor from Eugene, Allwander attended the most recent Patriot Prayer rally with a handkerchief masking his face. Last year, he posted a tribute video to Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman, the leader of the Proud Boys paramilitary wing Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights and repeat felon, titled “How to Become a Based Stick Man: Kekistani Martial Arts & IRL Weaponized Autism.”
“Communists only understand Force,” Allwander told members of the group. Later, when others began to push back against the rampant glorification of violence on the page, Allwander lashed out. “If you are not going to August 4th please stop telling people what to do when we are defending ourselves. Do you realize we MAY DIE AT THIS RALLY? You think it’s not that serious??”
He’s not the only one talking about martyrdom. In a video from July 9, Silva told viewers, “This is a true war and, you know, at some point — I hate to say this — someone's gonna probably get injured pretty bad.” But apparently that’s the entire point, because only through acts of violence can they get the attention of politicians they believe are friendly to their cause.
“You know,” he continued, “maybe that's what it's gonna take to bring this to national attention, for maybe Trump to step in and say 'You know what? This is ridiculous.'”
Photo credit Paul Christian Gordon / Alamy
An earlier version of this article misstated Ethan Nordean's first name. We regret the error.