After retreating into relative silence, the so-called alt-right and its allies returned to organized street protesting this past weekend. The August 4 and 5 rallies in Arizona, California, Oregon and Rhode Island are set to culminate in Unite the Right 2, an August 12 gathering in Washington D.C. The rally will mark the one-year anniversary of the White supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that claimed the life of White anti-racist activist Heather Heyer.
This past spring, the alt-right movement hit a low point. During this period, leader Richard Spencer’s college tour fizzled and the fascist Traditionalist Worker Party imploded in an embarrassing sex scandal. Since then, right-wing energy appears to have shifted to the so-called “alt-lite.” These groups, such as the Proud Boys and the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, share the alt-right’s Islamophobia, misogyny, anti-immigrant hostility and opposition to “Communism.” But they claim to welcome people of color, Jewish people and gay men. And they stop just short of calling for a White ethnostate.
Providence, Rhode Island
On Saturday, Resist Marxism, a group founded by Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman, held a rally in Providence, Rhode Island, that ended after just one speech. Scuffles with counter-protestors knocked down the group’s tents and exposed their sound system to the pouring rain.
Also on Saturday, in Tucson, Arizona, Patriot Movement AZ held the “Refuse Alt-Left Fascism” rally—a reference to President Donald Trump’s post-Charlottesville false equivalence between violent neo Nazis and the people who opposed them. The event drew 40 to 50 protestors and a small group of counter-protesters. It went off without violence between the two segments or from police.
Sunday’s No to Marxism in America 2 rally in Berkeley, California, also occurred without violent incident despite the fact that the city has been the site of multiple clashes between the alt-right and its opponents. Organized by activist Amber Cummings, the event only drew about 30 supporters. Police prevented most of the 1,000 counter-demonstrators from reaching the rally held in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.
Nonviolence not the case in Portland, Oregon. The Saturday rally, organized by the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, drew an estimated 500 people according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. This was the largest such march since last October’s militia-leaning Mother of All Rallies in Washington, D.C.
To understand the context of the Portland rally, get familiar with Patriot Prayer founder and Washington Republican senatorial candidate Joey Gibson: The formerly incarcerated high school football coach from Vancouver has preached “freedom, love and peace” and has told “Nazis…KKK…and white nationalists” to skip his events. But his group has been holding rallies up and down the West Coast since last April that people who come specifically to fight. While his own group has suffered splits and infighting, Gibson has recently attracted the support of the Proud Boys, the alt-lite “fight club.”
To promote a June 30 rally also in Portland, Patriot Prayer announced that “the stench-covered and liberal-occupied streets of Portland will be CLEANSED.” Its bussed-in supporters charged a crowd of opponents, beating isolated individuals and running others off. One rally speaker said, “For all the illegals trying to jump over our border, we should be smashing their heads into the concrete—handling business, separating them from their kids.”
Gibson’s August 4 rally, which was promoted by Alex Jones’s Infowars, drew hundreds from around the country, particularly Vancouver, Washington. In addition to multiple supporters baring Confederate flags, Gibson’s violent associate Tusitala “Tiny” Toese wore a t-shirt that said, “Pinochet Did Nothing Wrong.”
Local groups, including Rose City Antifa, the Pacific Northwest Antifascist Workers Collective, and the “Pop Mob” (Popular Mobilization) largely made up of Democratic Socialists of America, assembled about 1,000 counter-protesters.
Portland Police Reaction
Earlier in the week, in response to reports that the rally would become “the next Charlottesville,” Portland police claimed they would confiscate weapons. But on Saturday they made little effort to disarm far-right protesters, according to a statement by the Western States Center.
On Saturday, as each side stood behind police-made barriers on Southwest Naito Parkway, police announced that counter-protesters assaulted them with projectiles.
Video footage by local photographer Doug Brown shows police using flash bang grenades, charging the crowd with batons and attacking him as he filmed from the sidewalk.
here’s a full 12 minute video, starting when Portland police rushed the protesters, shot rounds, set off explosions. 9:47 is when they rushed me (again). GoPro mounted on my DSLR. Haven’t looked at my pictures yet. https://t.co/kLLPQL337J #DefendPDX #AllOutPDX— doug brown (@dougbrown8) August 4, 2018
Rawstory reported that one counter-protester sustained a severe head injury from a hit to the back of his bike helmet by a police flash bang grenade. On Sunday, the Portland National Lawyers Guild tweeted, “[W]hat we saw yesterday was an out-of-control police force using deadly force on protestors.”
Olivia Katbi Smith, co-chair of the Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America Portland, told The Guardian, “If it’s a victory for them, it’s a victory won by the cops. We outnumbered them.”
Up Next: D.C.
Next weekend’s Unite the Right 2 is being held in Washington, D.C. since organizer Jason Kessler was unable to secure a permit to hold it in Charlottesville. So far, 38 groups, including Black Lives Matter chapters in D.C. and Charlottesville, have signed Shut It Down D.C.’s call to counter-protest the march.
But while the symbolism of a second Unite the Right rally is meaningful, and the rally will garner media attention, it may be a bust. Kessler claims he can draw 400, but he has alienated almost everyone who attended last year. For one, the activist has said that people in his base—neo-Nazis—are not welcome. None of the planned speakers from last year have said they will come, including Spencer. Christopher “The Crying Nazi” Cantwell, who used pepper spray on counter-protesters at last year’s event, said on his personal blog, “Personally I would far prefer to at least emerge from such a conflict with my teeth intact.” The only far right person of note who agreed to attend, failed California senate primary candidate Patrick Little, has backed out.
If Unite the Right 2 is a bust, it will be in sharp contrast to the August 4 Portland rally. The Portland turnout shows a shift in power—from the deadly alt-right of Charlottesville to its slightly less straightforward adjacent movement, the alt-lite. But as long as Trump remains in power, his White supremacy, bellicose nationalism laced with conspiracy theories and rank Islamophobia will cultivate a favorable climate for followers of all stripes to take to the streets.