Right-wing groups and counterprotesters have gathered in downtown Portland in the US state of Oregon, where authorities have set up concrete barriers and closed streets over fears of violence.
Flag-waving members of far-right Proud Boys and Three Percenters groups began gathering on Saturday morning for their rally labelled “End Domestic Terrorism” – some wearing body armour and helmets.
Meanwhile, black-clad, helmet and face-mask wearing anti-fascist protesters were also among the several hundred people seen on the streets.
Polices said they had seized weapons such as metal and wooden poles, bear spray and shields from multiple groups.
More than two dozen local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the Federal Protective Service, have gathered in Portland to help police monitor the right-wing rally.
US President Donald Trump said on Saturday that Portland is being monitored closely amid fears of clashes with leftist counter-demonstrators.
“Portland is being watched very carefully. Hopefully the Mayor will be able to properly do his job!,” Trump tweeted, adding that “Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an ‘ORGANIZATION OF TERROR’”.
Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an “ORGANIZATION OF TERROR.” Portland is being watched very closely. Hopefully the Mayor will be able to properly do his job!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2019
Antifa stands for anti-fascist and refers to a loose international coalition of activists and protesters who oppose the far-right ideology.
The far-right rally is being organised in part by the Proud Boys group, classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a major civil rights organisation.
The Proud Boys, however, say they are a group for young “Western chauvinist” men.
Its leaders say the goal of the Portland rally is to have the antifa movement declared a “domestic terror” organisation, news reports said.
They point to scattered incidents of violence purportedly involving members of the loosely-organised antifa movement.
In the days leading up the event, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said people who espoused hate or engaged in violence were “not welcome”.
Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds reporting from Portland said that authorities plan to “smother” the rally with many police officers to keep the two sides apart and hopefully avoid any violence.
Regarding Trump’s tweet, Reynolds added: “It’s noteworthy that the president is using his bully pulpit to attack the anti-fascists even though just two weeks ago, a white supremacist killed 22 people in an avowedly racist attack in El Paso.”
It isn’t clear what Trump meant in his tweet as there’s no mechanism for the government to declare a domestic organisation a terror group.
The State Department maintains a list of designated foreign “terrorist” organisations, such as al-Qaeda, but there’s no comparable designation or list for US groups.
‘They want to put fear in your hearts’
In the run-up to the event, leaders from the far-right have urged their followers to turn out in large numbers to protest the arrests of six members of right-wing groups on charges related to violence at previous rallies.
Joey Gibson of the ultra-nationalist group Patriot Prayer, who is not involved in this weekend’s event but organised similar rallies in 2017 and 2018 that erupted in clashes, surrendered on Friday for felony rioting.
He was at a confrontation that broke out on May 1 outside a bar where members of the antifa movement had gathered after a May Day demonstration.
In a video he livestreamed on Facebook, Gibson accused the police of playing politics by arresting him but not the masked demonstrators who beat up conservative blogger Andy Ngo at a June 29 rally that drew national attention to this small, liberal city.
A video of that attack went viral and allegedly led the Proud Boys to organise Saturday’s event.
“What I’m saying to everybody who’s listening to this [is] they’re trying to shut you guys up. They want you to not show up in Portland, they want to put fear in your hearts,” Gibson said.
“When a government pushes back like that, we don’t bend the knee,” Gibson said as he walked to the jail.
Portland’s police spokeswoman Tina Jones declined to comment about specific arrests but said they continue to investigate May 1 and June 29 clashes.
Hate group watchdogs say the Daily Stormers, a neo-Nazi group, is expected at the rally. The white nationalist American Guard also said its members are attending.
A statement on the local Rose City Antifa website accused the far-right groups of planning “to bring their branded political violence to our streets,” and encouraged people “to defend Portland against far-right attack”.
Authorities asked residents not to call 911 unless it’s a life-threatening emergency and to stay away from the heart of downtown. Some city streets will be closed on Saturday, as well as a major bridge connecting the east and west sides of the city.
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