PORTLAND — At a mall parking lot east of Portland, more than 1,000 people gathered in the Saturday afternoon sunlight close by their trucks and cars outfitted with poles flying American flags. They chanted “all lives matter,” “USA” and “four more years.” Then, a speaker who identified himself as Dave from Oregonians for Trump took to a microphone.

“We are done hiding. We are done being quiet while our country burns,” he declared to the cheers of the crowd, some of whom would later venture downtown to drive in caravans through the streets, encountering protesters who chanted “Black Lives Matter.”

In recent weeks, Portland’s streets have been the center of volatile conflicts between right- and left-wing demonstrators. Hours after Saturday’s rally ended, a spasm of shooting violence in the city’s downtown left a man who supported Patriot Prayer, a right-wing group, dead.

Police have not released details about a suspect, motive or what led up to the shooting, which was another shock to this city — and a nation on edge — amid the run-up to a November election in which Republicans look to gain political capital by pointing to violence in cities run by Democrats like Portland and Seattle.

In Portland, there is a more immediate concern, with Mayor Ted Wheeler on Sunday asking supporters of the slain man to not come into the city to seek retribution.

Many of the details of the shooting, which occurred shortly before 9 p.m. Saturday after the caravans cleared out of the downtown area, have yet to emerge.

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A video posted on Twitter shows that the slain man was on foot when he was shot. Police said he died of a chest wound at the scene.

“It is still early in the investigation, and I ask everyone to give detectives time to do their important work before drawing conclusions about what took place,” said Portland Police Bureau Chief Chuck Lovell, in a statement released Sunday.

Portland police Chief Chuck Lovell calls for an end to violence in the city during a news conference Sunday, a day after a demonstrator was shot and killed in downtown Portland. (Sean Meagher / The Oregonian)
Portland police Chief Chuck Lovell calls for an end to violence in the city during a news conference Sunday, a day after a demonstrator was shot and killed in downtown Portland. (Sean Meagher / The Oregonian)

“Portland desperately needs calm,” Lovell said later in the day. “ We are living in an extremely divided era. It is time for us to start focusing on what we have in common, and not what divides us. Lives are at stake.”

In a Sunday Facebook posting, Joey Gibson, the leader of Patriot Prayer, said the man who was killed was his friend, Aaron “Jay” Danielson. Danielson also went by the name Jay Bishop, the post said.

“We love Jay and he had such a huge heart. God bless him and the life he lived,” Gibson said.

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Ongoing tensions

The bloodshed came after a night of skirmishes that included supporters of President Donald Trump firing paintball guns and releasing pepper spray at left-wing protesters, some of whom hurled exploding fireworks and other items at cars and set American flags on fire. Brawls broke out and police reported 10 arrests.

Though the shooting occurred after the Trump caravans had moved through the southwest Portland block, the scene was fraught with emotion. After police taped off the block and set up posts to keep people out, a bare-chested man in shorts — an anguished look on his face — emerged from the area where the shots had been fired. He burst through a group of reporters and ran off into the night.

Soon thereafter, Gibson was spotted by left-wing militants on the sidewalk. They bristled at his presence, swarmed around him and hounded him to move away.

Joey Gibson, the leader of the Patriot Prayer group, argues Sarurday with protesters in downtown Portland. (Mason Trinca / The New York Times)
Joey Gibson, the leader of the Patriot Prayer group, argues Sarurday with protesters in downtown Portland. (Mason Trinca / The New York Times)

Patriot Prayer has a history of holding events in Portland.

Gibson, who ran unsuccessfully in a Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Washington, is a staunch Trump supporter. In recent years, he organized a series of rallies in Portland that frequently drew left-wing militants. The fights that sometimes resulted garnered national attention, and helped establish Portland as an uneasy front-line city in a nation with growing political divides.

The Portland killing came at the tail end of a jarring week in America that included a law enforcement shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that triggered further protests — and on Tuesday evening the shooting deaths of two men who had come to protest Blake’s shooting, by a 17-year-old who joined citizen patrols on the streets. All of this unfolded amid a Republican convention, where President Trump and other speakers often cited continuing protests and acts of vandalism in Portland, and sometimes Seattle, to try to bolster the case for a reelection campaign increasingly centered on a law-and-order theme.

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On Sunday morning, Trump once again sounded an alarm about Portland in a tweet that declared “The Mayor is a FOOL. Bring in the National Guard!”

On ABC’s This Week, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said “all options are on the table,” and that there was a possibility of sending additional federal law enforcement officers to Portland.

Wheeler, in an emotional Sunday media briefing, accused Trump of creating the hate and division that set the stage for the shooting.

“My heart goes out to the family and friends of the man who was killed on the streets of our city,” Wheeler said. “The tragedy of last night cannot be repeated.”

Wheeler said he had consulted with Gov. Kate Brown but did not indicate there were any plans to call out the Oregon National Guard, or to impose a curfew, which was done on several days in late spring but was largely ineffective and ignored by many people.

Lovell, the police chief, said that officers had hoped all the caravan participants would stay on the route promoted by organizers that kept out of the downtown. That didn’t happen. Many opted to veer from that route into the downtown streets, creating a difficult situation for police as vehicles and protesters spread over many blocks.

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Left-wing protesters had planned to hold a demonstration in the east part of the city, but called their supporters to the city center as they realized that the Trump 2020 vehicles were pouring in.

Lovell said that it may get to the point where the Oregon National Guard is needed. “I don’t have any hesitancy one way or the other,” Lovell said.

Months of protest

The Portland protests began in late May after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Nightly gatherings often included arson, bottle-throwing and other actions that triggered confrontations with Portland police as well as federal law enforcement agents, who in July repeatedly sprayed tear gas, swung batons, fired less-lethal munitions and arrested dozens, but failed to make good on Trump’s talk of ending civil unrest in Oregon’s largest city.

For most of the summer, right-wing protesters were scarce in this city. Over the past three weeks, right-wing groups have become much more visible and have held rallies in the Portland area, with tensions rapidly escalating when they spar with left-wing protesters. 

On Aug. 22, several hundred people gathered in a pro-police rally at the steps of the Multnomah County Justice Center and faced off for several hours with left-wing protesters. Potent bear spray, which is not supposed to be used on humans and can cause serious eye damage, was unleashed by the police supporters, and videos also showed some protesters using it. It spread across much of a city park and affected dozens of people and fights repeatedly broke out.

The police opted not to intervene in that protest, and their explanation reflects the strain that law enforcement has been under during a difficult summer. It also points to the risks that may lie ahead as they continue trying to maintain peace between right- and left-wing groups and also respond to a surge in gun violence that in July resulted in Portland’s highest number of homicides in 30 years.

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In a statement released last week, Portland police said that they only had about 30 officers available for the Aug. 22 daytime event as many officers had been deployed the night before on a protest.

“While the activity in the group met the definition of a riot, [Portland Police Bureau] did not declare one because there were not adequate police resources available to address such a declaration,” the statement said.

After the Aug. 22 protest ended, one woman from the pro-police group had her American flag grabbed by a left-wing protester. She then got it back with an assist from another protester who didn’t like the seizure. Then, as she was walking away, she got a chilling message from a third protester.

“When the civil war comes, it’s people like you we want dead.”

Heated dialogue

The Trump 2020 rally Saturday drew a big turnout that filled up several parking lots of the Clackamas Town Center Mall with boisterous supporters of the president.

The organizers noted that they encouraged the Second Amendment right to bear arms but asked everyone attending not to open carry weapons and to only conceal carry their firearms. A small group of Black Lives Matter demonstrators ventured to the protest, where they were often surrounded by Trump supporters but easy to distinguish, in part, because they all wore masks and most of the president’s supporters did not.

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There was dialogue — sometimes heated, often ugly — that for the most part stopped short of fisticuffs and offered some rare opportunities for conversation during this fiery summer.

Before the speeches, Leroy Brown, a Southwest Washington resident, was taut with emotion as he confronted several Black Lives Matter activists. He talked about a severe beating that a man pulled from a truck had received earlier in August from some who had joined in Portland protests. One man has since been charged with felony assault.

Brown brushed off assurances from one young man who said it would be possible for Brown to safely make an appearance at a Portland protest.

“You are telling me that if I was at one of your guys’ rallies going “Trump, Trump, Trump” not one of your people would attack me?” he asked. “Maybe not you … but your group will.”

Trump supporters talk with Black Lives Matter supporters in some of the uneasy dialogue that unfolded at the president’s campaign rally at a mall parking lot east of Portland Saturday afternoon. (Hal Bernton / The Seattle Times)
Trump supporters talk with Black Lives Matter supporters in some of the uneasy dialogue that unfolded at the president’s campaign rally at a mall parking lot east of Portland Saturday afternoon. (Hal Bernton / The Seattle Times)

Another Black Lives Matter activist who was using a wheelchair angrily challenged the beliefs of several Trump supporters, calling some “irresponsible idiots.” Another Trump supporter came up next to him and sought to drown out his voice with a horn that sounded like a police siren.

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Trump supporters argue with a Black Lives Matter protester (shown in wheelchair). They hold very different views on the state of the nation. They met at a Trump 2020 campaign rally east of Portland on Saturday that drew more than 1,000 people. (Hal Bernton / The Seattle Times)
Trump supporters argue with a Black Lives Matter protester (shown in wheelchair). They hold very different views on the state of the nation. They met at a Trump 2020 campaign rally east of Portland on Saturday that drew more than 1,000 people. (Hal Bernton / The Seattle Times)

A big man from Gladstone, Oregon, who gave his name as Chris watched all this and approached a reporter with tears in his eyes. He said he had come to join the Trump rally to support his father, and wanted to give a hug to the man in a wheelchair.

“I am reeling. We have to be able to talk to each other,” he said. “We have to do better.”

 Chris then declared that he was quitting the rally, and headed back home.