As Portland prepared for what may be one of the biggest political demonstrations of the US summer, longtime rightwing leader Joey Gibson turned himself in to city authorities.
Outside the Multnomah County Justice Center, Gibson told reporters, and his supporters via Facebook, the arrest warrant against him was “without a doubt an assault on the first amendment”.
“I have never been violent,” he said.
The 35-year-old is one of six men associated with rightwing rallies in the Oregon city to be arrested or charged since 7 August, relating to a violent incident on 1 May at Cider Riot, a bar favored by the left.
Video shows men who have attended Gibson’s Patriot Prayer rallies in the city, and who arrived at the bar in his company, exchanging pepper spray with bar patrons, striking people with batons and fighting.
Gibson claimed the charges against him were “completely political. This is [Portland mayor] Ted Wheeler doing everything he can because he’s been caught.” He accused Wheeler of “coordinating with” and “protecting” anti-fascist demonstrators or “antifa”, a refrain in his speeches since 2017.
Gibson’s attorney, Multnomah county Republican chair James Buchal, said in a statement the charges were “part and parcel of the dishonest campaign by Portland leaders to blame out-of-town demonstrators for violence that began and persists because antifa wants to shut down any rightwing demonstrations in Portland.”
Asked via email if he thought the charges were timed in relation to the weekend rally, Buchal answered: “Yes.”
Gibson has organized protests in the city throughout the Trump era, under the banner of the organization he founded, Patriot Prayer. Several have become violent.
Gibson’s critics have pointed to the presence at times of members of white nationalist groups like Identity Evropa and the PDX Stormers. But above all the events have been characterized by the growing presence of the Proud Boys, a “western chauvinist” group.
The Proud Boys have played a leading role in the organization of Saturday’s event. The main promoter, Joe Biggs, is a Proud Boy, a combat veteran and a sometime presenter on the Infowars conspiracy channel.
Biggs has issued a series of threats to “antifa” in recent weeks, leading up to an event framed by the right as a response to the conservative writer Andy Ngo being milkshaked – having a drink poured over him – and punched at a rally in Portland on 29 June.
The event’s Facebook page and a page started by Biggs following an initial ban were removed from the site on Friday. That afternoon, Biggs posted to the encrypted messaging app Telegram photographs of he and other men lifting weights in a back yard.
City authorities spent the day fortifying the waterfront area where attendees at the un-permitted “Amend Domestic Terrorism” rally are expected to face counter-protesters. In the afternoon, the Portland Bureau of Transportation began ferrying in concrete barriers.
In a press conference, Portland Police Bureau (PPB) spokeswoman Lt Tina Jones said it had been assessed that the event was likely to be “beyond the resources” of her department, even though all leave had been cancelled for the day.
PPB issued a list of partner agencies helping with enforcement, crowd management and preparation. It included police departments statewide, Oregon state police, the FBI and various municipal authorities.
Earlier in the week, Mayor Wheeler assembled members of 90 community organizations in Portland’s central square. He denounced violence and announced a no-tolerance policy for lawbreakers at the rally.