Patriot Prayer is a far-right group based in the Portland, Oregon area. Patriot Prayer describes itself as advocating in favor of free speech, and opposing big government. The group has organized pro-Trump rallies and far-right protests in predominantly liberal areas, in which it has been met with large numbers of counter-protesters. White nationalists and far-right groups, such as Proud Boys, have attended the rallies organised by Patriot Prayer, sparking controversy and violence.
Patriot Prayer was founded in 2016 by Joey Gibson. Gibson says he became an activist after seeing supporters of the Trump presidency brawling with counter protesters. Patriot Prayer is a far-right group, part of the right wing of American politics. It holds rallies in areas known as centers of liberal politics. It has also been described as anti-government. The San Jose Mercury News describes Patriot Prayer as a "right-wing group ... [whose] events ... have attracted white supremacists and ended up in violent confrontations among demonstrators on both sides." In 2017 Gibson described himself as Conservative libertarian.
According to the BBC, Patriot Prayer have been connected to the alt-right as well as other far-right groups. Gibson denies this, saying the group is neither white nationalist nor alt-right and that they support "freedom, love and peace". The group's stated aim is support of the First Amendment, free speech and to "liberate the conservatives on the West Coast".
The Seattle Times and The Washington Post have described Patriot Prayer as a "pro-Trump group". According to The Weekly Standard, "In the early days, [Gibson's] rallies had overtly pro-Trump themes. These days, mentions of Trump have mostly been scrubbed from his own rhetoric, as he knows even invoking the name can be alienating."
David Neiwert, writing for the Southern Poverty Law Center blog Hatewatch described Patriot Prayer as "trolling" the Pacific Northwest with the intention of provoking a response from far-left antifascists. Neiwart noted that Gibson denounced white supremacists and neo-Nazis during an August 13 rally in Seattle the day after the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, and that Gibson also contends he has taken steps to exclude white supremacist groups. During the August 13 rally in Seattle such groups had no obvious presence; however, a week earlier at another rally in Portland, Oregon, which was led by Gibson, members of Identity Evropa were in attendance. The SPLC does not list Patriot Prayer as a hate group, nor list Gibson as an extremist.
On April 29, 2017, Gibson organized a "March for Free Speech" in Portland, Oregon after organizers cancelled a planned parade due to fears of violence between opposing political groups. Jeremy Joseph Christian, who was later arrested for the fatal stabbing of two men in an apparently racially-motivated attack, was seen at the march yelling racial slurs. Gibson denounced Christian's actions and said he ejected Christian from the April 2, 2017, event due to his "bizarre behavior".
A June 4 "Trump Free Speech Rally" in downtown Portland attracted a large counter-protest and 14 people were arrested, after Portland's mayor Ted Wheeler unsuccessfully sought to have the event's permit revoked. that has held rallies from the San Francisco Bay Area According to The Washington Post, this rally provided "a vivid illustration of the city's divisions". The rally caused controversy as it was scheduled one week after the stabbings by Jeremy Christian. The mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler had requested that federal authorities revoke the permit saying he was concerned over increasing tensions in the city due to the stabbings. The Federal Park Service denied the request, stating that the permit had been lawfully obtained weeks beforehand. The Oregon chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union's legal director, Mat Dos Santos, said it was unconstitutional of Wheeler to attempt to prevent the demonstration based on the political and personal viewpoints of those who organized the event. Gibson cancelled the event citing safety concerns.
The rally occurred in the midst of a national debate on the First Amendment, one which has seen violent clashes between right-wing and left-wing groups over appearances by contentious public figures, often in liberal cities such as Portland. The atmosphere in Portland had also become tense after Christian's recent arrest for the train attack.
A rally which was to be held at Crissy Field in San Francisco on August 26, 2017 was cancelled by Gibson. In response to allegations by Nancy Pelosi that the event was a "white supremacist rally", Gibson said "For those of you who believe we are seriously going to throw a white nationalist supremacist rally in San Francisco, it's time for logic," In a video posted to his Facebook page Gibson said, "We have a black speaker, two Hispanic speakers, we've got an Asian, a brown speaker right here (referring to himself) — we got a transsexual, and we aren't talking about race." Security for the event was to be handled by the Oath Keepers.
Following the cancellation of the rose parade due to threats of violence against the Multnomah County Republican Party who were to take part in the rally, allegedly from anti-fascist groups, Gibson organized a 'March for Free Speech' to occur on April 29, 2017. Gibson told the Guardian, "We are going to continue with our rally. There is no way that we will stop. It is even more important that we come out with a strong message of love." There were an estimated 60 counter protesters and police said there had been three arrests.
On April 2, 2017, approximately 300 people of both, supporters and detractors of President Donald Trump exchanged words, during a pro-Trump rally at Vancouver's Esther Short Park on Sunday afternoon, near Portland, but was relatively peaceful. Security for the Patriot Prayer rally, "Rally for Trump and Freedom" was provided by the 3 Percenters (often spelled III%).
On May 11 and 13, 2017, Patriot Prayer organized the attendance of a dozen "antifa watchers" at a protest at a south-east Portland grocery liquidator. Interviewed by The Oregonian, Gibson said the group were there to watch the protest and report any property damage, and that he attended "to start conversations".
By the end of the month Patriot Prayer gathered for their 'Freedom March" on June 30, 2017, at the Portland Waterfront near the annual Blues Festival, and were met by counter-protesters. The often heated exchanges of the dueling rallies ended with minimal violence and no reports of arrests.
On August 6, 2017, it was much smaller crowds for their "Freedom March" at Salmon Street Springs, Portland, but it followed the well-established pattern with a few arrests of counter protesters and a lot of shouting and chants from both the Patriot Prayer group and counter protesters. Prior to the violence at the Unite the Right Rally in Charlotteville, the Patriot Prayer rallies featured "right-wing nationalists". Since Charlottesville the group has tried to distance themselves from the alt-right saying they were victims of unprovoked, left-wing violence.[not in citation given]
For the September 10, 2017, Portland, "Peaceful Portland Freedom March", Joey Gibson asked followers take a new non-violent approach though not all appear willing to go along. and the counter-protests also appear to be settling on a number of different measures depending on the organization. In an attempt to out-maneuver counter-protesters, Patriot Prayer switched their planned march to Vancouver, Washington, just across the river from Portland and changed the time of the event; but a small cohort of followers intend to go to the original march site to provoke the counter-protesters. In another change, this once pro-Trump organization, will now be collecting charitable relief for the victims of the recent Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia River Gorge, and the new rally is renamed, "Peaceful Vancouver Freedom March". The small rallies drew large counter-protest crowds in both Portland and Vancouver with several arrests and the detention of the driver of a pickup that sped through a crowd of counter-protesters, no injuries were reported. Among those drawn to the rallies were the militia-style Three Percenters, and the Proud Boys, a white nationalist group.
On June 3, 2018, Patriot Prayer and anti-fascists again fought in parks in downtown Portland. Police arrested four people for disorderly conduct. Participants threw rocks, bottles, ball bearings, and fireworks at each other. The Portland Mercury reports that Patriot Prayer organized the rally as a counter-protest to another leftist rally led by the Empower Portland Alliance and the Direct Action Alliance. This earlier rally was intended to protest police violence and to commemorate the anniversary of an incident a year earlier when Portland police detained 200 people for several hours. In response to Patriot Prayer's plans to counter-protest this earlier rally, local antifa groups organized a counter-protest of Patriot Prayer, calling this third rally "Call to Resist Patriot Prayer Bringing Nazis to Portland." Pepper spray was used by a Multnomah County sheriff's deputy and by demonstrators. Police report that although there were several people who were evaluated medically at the parks, no one was transported to the hospital.
On June 30, 2018, a Patriot Prayer rally that consisted of 150 supporters clashed with anti-fascists protesters who had been waiting for them at a barricaded street. Police observed “assaults, criminal behavior, and projectiles being thrown". Reports suggest that the counter-protesters initiated the violence when they began assaulting the Patriot Prayer supporters with thrown projectiles. Subsequently, the permit to march through downtown Portland was revoked, and the police declared the Patriot Prayer rally a riot. The police fired non-lethal ammunition towards the counter-protestors and 9 people in all were arrested.
A rally called the "Gibson for Senate Freedom March", including members of both Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys, was held in Portland on August 4, 2018, along Tom McCall Waterfront Park. It attracted counter-protestors, both from a coalition of labor unions, immigrant rights advocates, and other groups, and from organized antifa ("anti-fascist") activists. Hundreds of riot-geared policeman, from both the Portland Police and the Oregon State Police attempted to keep the two groups apart, using rubber bullets and flashbangs when protestors refused to move. At one point, the police forces came under attack from rocks and bottles. Police reported that they confiscated weapons including fireworks, long sticks, baseball bats, pepper spray and home-made shields. There were injuries, and arrests were made, but the police characterized the event as a "civil disturbance" and not a "riot".
Seattle area rallies
On June 15, 2017, Patriot Prayer members held a rally at Evergreen State College, timed to coincide with one by the Evergreen Anti-Fascist Community Defense Network. The former promoted solidarity with Bret Weinstein, whose critical comments about an event for racial awareness had ignited campus protests. One arrest was made at the event after the vehicles of the group leader Joey Gibson and one other person had their tires slashed, allegedly by a member of antifa.
On August 13, 2017, the group held the "Freedom Rally Seattle" at Westlake Park with a large police presence to keep thousands of counter-protesters away. The concurrent events came one day after the death and injuries in Charlottsville and tensions were high with arrests of counter protesters made by police.
On February 10, 2018, Patriot Prayer were invited by the University of Washington College Republicans to speak at their "Freedom Rally" in Red Square. Several groups organized counter-protests, leading to skirmishes. Five people were arrested.
San Francisco Bay area rallies
On August 26, 2017, news of a planned Patriot Prayer press conference in San Francisco's Alamo Square Park drew over 1000 counter-protesters to the neighborhood. The group, which had already canceled a planned a rally at Crissy Field due to safety concerns, held the press conference in Pacifica instead. Prior to the event, the group's leader, Joey Gibson, denounced white supremacists before an August 2017 rally, saying "Don't show up, you're not welcome." Group organizers arrived at Crissy Field later that afternoon to talk with counter-protesters.
A September 26, 2017 Patriot Prayer demonstration near Sproul Plaza resulted in violence between the group and left-wing activists, including By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). The demonstration continued in a march to People's Park, where Kyle "Stickman" Chapman, a self-described American nationalist claimed there was "a war on whites" and a "battle for Berkeley". Police made three arrests, including Yvette Felarca.
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