OPB Report: Tactics Honed in Portland Employed in Capitol Assault
Oregon Public Broadcasting posted a stunning story last week on how Oregon served as a testing ground for the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. OPB reporter Jonathan Levinson wrote, “Oregon was central to escalating political violence leading up to the Capitol assault.”
The article isn’t the first to make a direct connection between far-right extremist activity in Oregon and the January 6 assault in Washington, DC.
Levinson’s lengthy online article traces the roles of the far-right groups Patriot Prayer, Oath Keepers and Proud Boys in battle-testing “violent street protests targeted at an ever-shifting array of cultural issues and people aligned with liberal causes.” Antifa, he says, was portrayed by Patriot Prayer, based in Vancouver, as a “leftist bogeyman in far-right psyches,” which contributed to the broader media perception that Portland was “a central battleground between far-right and leftist activists.”
President Donald Trump poured gasoline on that impression when he told a crowd at Mount Rushmore on July 3, 2020, “Make no mistake, this leftwing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American revolution.” A month earlier, Trump ordered federal law enforcement to quell rioting in select cities, including Portland.
Levinson says the Oath Keepers, which actively recruits people with law enforcement and military experience, developed what he called a “cozy relationship” with federal and local law enforcement authorities, as well as with GOP officials. Oath Keepers assisted the Federal Protective Service in the Portland arrest of an “antifascist demonstrator”. The Multnomah County GOP approved a resolution okaying hiring Oath Keepers as security for Republican events. An Oath Keeper member ran for political office in Josephine County and was a delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Evidence uncovered by the Congressional January 6th Committee indicates the Oath Keepers played a central role in the Capitol assault. Eleven Oath Keepers “reconnoitered the Capitol grounds in the days before January 6, staged an armed quick reaction force just outside DC and were captured on video wearing tactical gear while methodically making their way through the crowd toward the Capitol entrance in a military-style ‘stack’ used to breach buildings,” Levinson says.
Oregon was central to escalating political violence leading up to the Capitol assault.
The Proud Boys, Levinson describes, became a fixture in Portland street fighting, even as it was classified by the FBI as an “extremist group with ties to White Nationalism”. The group provided security in 2018 for a “flash march for law and order” after a Black man had been shot by Portland police. Local Proud Boys leader Reggie Axtell posted a video in 2019 threatening Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, whom he called a “little punk”. Later that year, “Proud Boys from all over the country descended on Portland for a ‘Stop Domestic Terrorism’ rally against Antifa. Leading the way was Joe Biggs, a prominent national Proud Boys organizer.”
In August 2020, the Proud Boys staged a rally in front of the Multnomah County Justice Center that “unraveled into an hours-long, violent street clash”, Levinson says. A month later, Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio came to Portland for a massive rally. “After years spent stoking political violence and refining tactics in Portland and cities across the country,” he reports, “a federal indictment claims Biggs was one of the first people to enter the Capitol on January 6. He and four other Proud Boys, including Tarrio, were indicted by a federal grand jury for seditious conspiracy for their role in the insurrection.”
The indictment, writes Aaron Mesh of Willamette Week, “is of particular relevance to Portland, because several of the indicted men were the architects of regular visits to Portland that resulted in hand-to-hand combat with anti-fascists in the streets.”
Levinson reports three of the men who illegally entered the Oregon Capitol in December 2020 and spread bear mace at Oregon State Police officers later participated in the January 6 assault on the US Capitol. The three men have been charged for their involvement in the US Capitol assault.
One of the long-term goals of the Proud Boys, Levinson observes, was “to shift their focus from street brawls to local elections.” Tarrio told NPR in an interview, “Start getting more involved in local politics, running our guys for office for local seats, whether it’s a simple GOP seat or a city council seat.”
The New York Times reported six current and former Proud Boys members sit on the Miami-Dade County Republican Executive Committee. Proud Boys members ran unsuccessfully this year as Republicans for an Oregon House seat and a seat in the California Assembly. A year before joining the assault of the US Capitol, Reed Knox Christensen served on the Washington County Republican Central Committee.
In Shasta County in California, a militia-backed campaign recalled a GOP county supervisor, giving far-right representatives a majority on the county board, according to Levinson. “This feels very much to me like the Nazi Party in the early ‘30s of Germany,” said recalled Supervisor Leonard Moty in a radio interview, “where they came out with their brown shirts and they intimidated people.”
Tess Reski of Willamette Week wrote a similar story to Levinson’s early last year following Trump’s second impeachment trial:
“For the past four years, far-right groups, accompanied by members of paramilitary organizations, have led scheduled incursions into Portland, often wearing body armor and carrying weapons. Repeatedly, the stated objective was to conquer the city and its progressives – or, more precisely, to reclaim it for the so-called silent majority of Americans.
It was sometimes hard to see the point of these exercises. But as elected officials laid out a case last week for impeaching former President Donald Trump for inciting an armed insurrection against Congress, one explanation emerged: The Portland rallies were practice.”