'Ground Zero': Portland Remains Focus Of Divided Country

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Photo credit (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
By WBBM Newsradio 780 AM & 105.9 FM

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — With both the left and the right declaring victory following a long-hyped rally that had Portland, Oregon, on edge it seems the liberal city will continue to be a flashpoint in an increasingly divided country.

City officials were mostly relieved that a downtown gathering Saturday of more than 1,000 far-right protesters and anti-fascist counter-demonstrators wasn't as violent as feared.

"I'm grateful this was largely a peaceful event," Mayor Ted Wheeler said. "We were preparing for and planning for a worst-case scenario."

There were 13 arrests and police seized bear spray, shields, poles and other weapons. But by using barriers and bridge closures — and allowing a large contingent of right-wingers to leave when they asked to — authorities were able to mostly keep the two sides apart. Six minor injuries were reported.

Biggs told The Oregonian/OregonLive he was pleased the rally attracted Trump's attention.

"He talked about Portland, said he's watching antifa. That's all we wanted," he said.

Biggs said he and the right-wing groups would keep coming back to Portland so long as antifa was around.

But Eric K. Ward, executive director of the Portland-based Western States Center, said the right-wing rally was a bust.

"Portland won today, and far-right leaders like Joey Gibson and Joe Biggs lost," Ward said in a statement.

"The white nationalist, alt-right coalition that came to Portland were denied what they sought to create, which was large-scale civil disturbances," Ward said.

While antifa protesters get a lot of attention, Ward said there were many others who came out to oppose the right-wing groups. He also praised police and city officials for their actions.

"What I saw yesterday was the first step in Portland really putting together a citywide response," he said.

Wheeler, Portland's mayor, said at a Saturday evening news conference that Biggs and anyone espousing hate or violence was not welcome.

"We do not want him here in my city. Period," Wheeler said.

Wheeler emphasized that there are hundreds of protests every year in Portland, and most don't get any attention.

The latest rally began late Saturday morning. Flag-waving members of the Proud Boys, Three Percenters militia group and others gathered downtown, some wearing body armor and helmets like the antifa protesters.

More than two dozen local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, were in the city for the right-wing rally.

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.

A video of that attack went viral and led the Proud Boys, who have been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, to organize Saturday's event.

Gibson was also at Saturday's rally.

Ward said even if right-wing groups return to Portland he is confident in the community's ability to turn out and stay true to its values.

"The tables have really turned in a significant way," he said.

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