PORTLAND, Ore. - Several hundred far-right activists, many of them in militarized helmets and body armor - and some openly carrying guns - turned out Saturday afternoon for what they termed a "free speech" event to support President Donald Trump's reelection, ratcheting up fears of an explosive clash with left-wing protesters who have taken to the city's streets most nights since early summer.
Thousands had been expected at the afternoon rally led by the Proud Boys, who call themselves "Western chauvinists" and are notorious for brawls with protest groups whose calls for racial justice and police reform were further stirred this week by a Louisville, Ky., grand jury decision to not indict officers for the shooting death of a 26-year-old Black woman, Breonna Taylor, in her own apartment.
The Proud Boys, labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, maintain that they are seeking "law and order," echoing Trump's rhetoric that anti-fascist activists are "domestic terrorists" who must be squelched.
Several hundred people had arrived in Delta Park by early afternoon, some carrying "Don't tread on me" flags and wearing "Make America Great Again" hats. The far-right activists gathered under tents, with card tables dotted with platters of doughnuts and packs of cigarettes. Dozens lounged in the beds of pickup trucks, flanked by "Trump 2020" flags.
Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio strolled the area wearing a body armor vest and posing for photographs, about a dozen supporters in tow.
On Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which runs alongside the park, a banner flashed: "Hate has no place here."
City and state officials prepared a surge in law enforcement, seeking to prevent violent clashes between various counterprotester groups.
Gov. Kate Brown had declared a state of emergency as Saturday approached. The Proud Boys and related groups "have come time and time again looking for a fight, and the results are always tragic," Brown said Friday, adding that state troopers would join the efforts to establish a unified command structure in the city. "This is a critical moment. We have seen what happens when armed vigilantes take matters into their own hands."
Portland's protests over racial injustice and other issues, which have continued most evenings since early summer, have often escalated into violence.
Left-wing demonstrators have clashed with police forces, who have disbursed crowds with nonlethal projectiles and chemical agents.