In liberal Portland, conservatives struggle to make their voices heard

A conservative rally in Portland, Ore., on Sunday drew contentious counter protestors. The clash comes amid a wider debate in the US about the First Amendment as violent protests between far-right and far-left protesters have derailed appearances by controversial figures.

David Ryder/Reuters
Protesters listen during the National Anthem at the Trump Free Speech Rally in Portland, Ore., on 4, 2017. The conservative rally brought clashes with counter protestors.

Thousands of demonstrators and counter protesters converged in downtown Portland, Ore., on Sunday, a day marked by multiple arrests and clashes between police and protesters.

A pro-President Trump free speech rally drew several hundred to a plaza near City Hall more than a week after two Portland men were fatally stabbed trying to stop a man from shouting anti-Muslim insults at two teenage girls on a light-rail train.

That rally was met across the street by hundreds of counter-protesters organized by immigrant rights, religious, and labor groups. They said they wanted to make a stand against hate and racism.

Portland police said Sunday evening that 14 people were arrested, and several dozen knives, bricks, sticks and other weapons were seized.

By late afternoon, police closed nearby Chapman Square where a separate group of protesters – many wearing masks and black clothing and identified as anti-fascists – also demonstrated. Police used flash-bang grenades and pepper balls to disperse that crowd after saying protesters were hurling bricks and other objects at officers.

The people gathered at the free speech rally organized by the conservative group Patriot Prayer and counter-protesters at City Hall were not involved in those clashes, police said.

After several dozen demonstrators began marching north of the initial rally locations, police officers moved in and blocked them. They detained a large crowd in the street, including several journalists.

People identified as participating in criminal activity would be arrested, police said. Everyone else was eventually released after officers took photographs of their identification.

Sunday's event was organized by the group Patriot Prayer and billed as Trump Free Speech Rally in "one of the most liberal areas of the West Coast."

Rally organizer Joey Gibson held a moment of silence for the two men who were stabbed to death and pleaded with the crowd to refrain from violence. He later told them that goal is to wake up the liberty movement. "It's OK to be a conservative in Portland," he said.

Last week Mayor Ted Wheeler unsuccessfully tried to have the permit for the free speech rally revoked, saying it could further enflame tensions following the May 26 stabbings.

The suspect in the light-rail stabbings, Jeremy Joseph Christian attended a similar rally in late April wearing an American flag around his neck and carrying a baseball bat. Police confiscated the bat, and he was then caught on camera clashing with counter-protesters.

In a video posted on Facebook, Gibson condemned Mr. Christian and acknowledged that some rallies have attracted "legitimate Nazis." He described the attacker on the light rail as "all crazy" and "not a good guy."

Matthew Eggiman, who lives in Corvallis, said he showed up Sunday to oppose bigotry and racism. He worried that that hateful rhetoric would embolden others. But he also condemned protesters who show up hoping to provoke violence.

The Rev. Diane Dulin of the United Church of Christ said in a statement ahead of the day's events that any act of violence in the community should be met by non-violence.

"We build our hope and our stamina for justice by showing up," said Dulin, part of a coalition of groups that organized rally to oppose hate.

Authorities say that on May 26 Mr. Christian killed two men and injured another on the light-rail train when they tried to help after he verbally abused two young women, one wearing a hijab. Christian is charged with aggravated murder and other counts.

The concerns over the Portland rally come amid a wider debate in the United States about the First Amendment, often in liberal cities like Portland and Berkeley, Calif., and on college campuses, where violent protests between far-right and far-left protesters have derailed appearances by contentious figures.
Associated Press Writers Phuong Le in Seattle and Manuel Valdes in Portland contributed to this report.

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