Street beatings and melees broke out on both coasts this weekend during confrontations involving the Proud Boys and antifascists – ideologically opposed movements that both condone political violence and practice it with some regularity on their opponents.
Police in New York and Portland, Oregon, are investigating viral videos of the attacks but have not yet blamed either group. New York’s Democratic mayor, governor and attorney general, however, have accused the Proud Boys of instigating the weekend’s first act of violence. (Representatives for the Proud Boys could not immediately be reached.)
Gavin McInnes, who founded the Proud Boys in 2016 as a nationalist men’s club, was scheduled to speak at the Metropolitan Republican Club that evening about “Deep State Socialists” and “Western Values” – common themes for his group.
After the speech, about two dozen Proud Boys emerged from the club to find a similarly sized group of protesters waiting to confront them, including antifascists, as seen in cellphone videos. While antifascists, or “antifa” activists, are more loosely organized than the hierarchical, uniformed Proud Boys, both groups consider each other dangerous to U.S. society and condone violence to defend their notions of it.
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“I recognized one” of the antifascists, McInnes later told HuffPost, recalling the confrontation. “He stole a Proud Boys MAGA hat and was immediately tuned up.”
Cellphone videos show an unidentified victim writhing on the sidewalk while several men take turns kicking him, and at least a dozen Proud Boys in uniform polo shirts, scream various slurs.
The video ends as police rush in to break up the confrontation.
New York police said the victim refused medical treatment but spoke to investigators, and three people have been charged with assault. The New York Times, however, reported that all three were affiliated with the anti-fascist group, rather than the Proud Boys, leading to confusion and messages from top state Democrats calling for more investigation.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which considers the Proud Boys an extremist group, wrote that its members were joined at the event by “an ultranationalist far-right skinhead crew,” which may have also taken part in the attack caught on video.
The next night, on the other side of the country, Proud Boys were reported among a right-wing group that marched through downtown Portland toward their ideological opponents.
Portland, which has long seen clashes between the far left and far right, has been consumed for two weeks with Black Lives Matter protests over a fatal police shooting in September. Those protests, in turn, provoked right-wing groups when video emerged last weekend of demonstrators blocking traffic and beating on a passing driver’s car.
So on Saturday evening, a conservative group organized a “flash march for Law and Order” – marching toward the downtown plaza where a memorial had been set up for the police shooting victim, Patrick Kimmons.
“We’ve got Proud Boys running security,” one of the organizers said in a Facebook Live stream of the march.
Predictably, the marchers arrived at the plaza to find it full of counterprotesters chanting “Black Lives Matter.” The local antifascist group was among those live-tweeting from that side of 4th Avenue.
The right-wing marchers paused on the other side of the street, waving U.S. flags and chanting back – “All Lives Matter,” and “USA, USA!” and eventually shouted threats.
“Respect the memorial and vigil that’s going on over there,” a man with a loudspeaker said, as seen in one of several Facebook Live videos. “But if they come across the street, you gotta do what you gotta do.”
Portland police had apparently been expecting trouble and managed to dissuade it for half an hour or so by lining up in tactical gear along the street.
But after sundown, things kicked off.
The antifascists may have provoked the violence, according to Mike Bivins, a freelance reporter who documented the ensuing melee on Twitter. One of them burned an American flag as the Proud Boys and company were leaving, causing them to return. Another antifascist then doused the entire group with pepper spray, Bivins wrote.
From there, the scene devolved into something like an exponentially larger version of the Manhattan assault.
While it’s hard to tell who is who in cellphone videos, a man stepped out from a sea of red “Make America Great Again” hats and punched someone in the opposite crowd in the face. Various fistfights and scuffles then started, with some people scrambling across the street, slamming into windows or collapsing to the pavement in a flurry of kicks.
A man in a camouflage shirt followed the melee around, spraying liquid into the crowd.
Finally, an armored police officer stepped up and shot foam bullets into the sidewalk, which dispersed the combatants.
In statement sent to The Washington Post on Facebook, a representative for Patriot Prayer, the group that organized the march, said most of the people in the melee were not members but “people who gathered with us as we marched.”
“The Tyranny.of Social Justice and its army of black clad, masked up enforcers is coming to an end,” the statement continued.
“The Police Bureau is aware that people were assaulted during today’s demonstration,” police wrote in a statement afterward. They had made no arrests by Sunday morning but, like their counterparts in New York, continued to investigate copious amounts of amateur footage.
Officers spotted not only pepper spray in the crowd, but also “hard-knuckled gloves, firearms, batons and knives,” police wrote – not to mention U.S. flagpoles turned into clubs.
Police did not specify which weapons belonged to which group.