PORTLAND — While others chanted, a young man stood quietly at the edge of the group of protesters gathered near a river-side park with a semi-automatic rifle strapped across his chest.
The man said he had grown up with firearms and in recent weeks decided it was time to carry one to the Portland protests. “In our hometown, we need to take care of our community,” said the man who declined to give his name.
The man is one of a small cadre of left-wing protesters who on Tuesday and Wednesday were openly carrying weapons as they pulled security duty on the perimeters of marches through Portland.
On Wednesday, another man brought to the march a red flag with a black rifle. He said the flag was not an attempt to advocate for how or when weapons should be used but to start a discussion. He produced a four-page pamphlet to explain his views that called the flag “a representation to defend ourselves and the ability to defend ourselves in the struggle for freedom,” and included a final slogan: “Give Piece A Chance,” referring to a slang term for a firearm.
In Oregon, Washington and elsewhere, right-wing activists have frequently open carried arms at rallies and other events. The open carry by some activists on the left comes at an uneasy moment in America during a divisive election. It also is a tense time in Portland, which has been the scene of months of protests and also some late-summer clashes that pitted protesters against those who have rallied to support law enforcement and President Donald Trump.
On the evening of Aug. 29, one of these confrontations turned deadly. Michael Reinoehl, a staunch backer of the anti-fascist movement, was alleged to have fatally shot Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a supporter of Patriot Prayer, a far-right group, according to a warrant for Reinoehl’s arrest on a second-degree murder charge later filed by the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office.
In the faceoff with Reinoehl, Danielson pulled out a can of bear spray that unleashed a cloud of irritant. Danielson also carried with him a fully loaded Glock-17 pistol, which was found by police after his death, according to court documents.
Five days after Danielson’s death, Reinoehl was fatally shot by law enforcement officials outside town houses near Lacey, Washington.
Concerns about gun violence amid protests were renewed last weekend after the Clark County fatal shooting of a young Black man, Kevin Peterson Jr. Protesters took to the streets of Vancouver for two days of marches, which also drew a collection of right-wing activists, some of them armed, to the downtown core.
During the Wednesday protests in Portland, some activists were unhappy with the reelection of Mayor Ted Wheeler. In social media posts, they suggested that marchers could vent some of their frustration on downtown businesses that had supported the mayor in his campaign.
Several hundred people joined in the march that unfolded in the early evening through downtown, and some began smashing windows in buildings that included a church that offered food to the homeless and the Roseland Theater, a concert venue now shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Portland police, Multnomah County Sheriff’s deputies and Oregon State Police troopers, responded with a flood of law enforcement officials who arrived in vehicles, sirens blaring, and flooded into the streets and declared a riot.
Later in the evening, protesters regrouped for a second march. This time, there were fewer windows smashed and a strong response that included Oregon National Guard soldiers in what The Oregonian reported were the guard’s first boots on the ground in the city since a 1970 anti-Vietnam War protest.
The guard soldiers, dressed in camouflage, joined with law enforcement officers to push protesters west out of downtown.
In a statement released Thursday, the Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt said 13 cases from the Wednesday protest were referred by law enforcement.
So far, the county prosecutor has filed charges against two people.
Luke Harrah, who told police he is a traveling protester who has only been in Portland a few days, was charged with first-degree criminal mischief for allegedly breaking two windows at a Starbucks in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square.
Jarrod DeFarrai, from Sunrise, Florida, is charged with one count of riot and two counts of second-degree criminal mischief for breaking two windows of local businesses with a hammer that was inside his backpack.
Four cases were referred back to the agencies that made the arrests for investigative follow-up, including one that involved a man arrested for possession of a loaded firearm, riot and disorderly conduct.