Photo: Ted S. Warren (AP)

During the August 4 Patriot Prayer rally in Portland, Oregon, members of the alt-right militia stationed themselves on top of a building overlooking the protest with a cache of weapons, seemingly prepared to escalate violence. The Portland Police Department, however, did not see fit to inform city officials of this fact until today, months after the rally.

During a press conference today, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler revealed that Patriot Prayer had stretched Portland’s lenient gun legislation to its limits. Members of the group often open-carry firearms whenever local jurisdictions allow it, attempting to intimidate opposition.

Per Oregon Live (emphasis mine):

Prior to the start of a scheduled Aug. 4 demonstration, “the Portland Police Bureau discovered individuals who positioned themselves on a rooftop parking structure in downtown Portland with a cache of firearms,” Wheeler said during a City Hall press conference. Berk Nelson, a senior mayoral aide, said the weapons included “long guns.”

The people on the rooftop were members of Patriot Prayer, said Assistant Chief Ryan Lee. Police officers seized their weapons that day, but they were later given back. No arrests were made because the protesters had not broken any laws, Lee said. The protesters all had licenses to carry concealed weapons, Lee said. Neither Lee nor Wheeler named the people who had guns seized.

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The term “long gun” typically refers to a rifle with a lengthy barrel for shooting at distance. It’s a blanket term that can also include shotguns, but it seems unlikely to me that it refers to a shotgun in this case. Gun nuts will debate semantics over what exactly constitutes a sniper rifle (were they semi-automatic or bolt action, what caliber were they chambered in, etc etc), but colloquially, the term is apt if the “long guns” were rifles. I’ve reached out to the Portland Police Bureau to clarify the types of weapons that were confiscated and later returned.

Wheeler was introducing an an emergency ordinance that will give the police greater authority to separate groups during a confrontation, if it’s voted through by the City Council this week.

“I will not allow continued, planned street violence between rival factions to take place in Portland, Oregon,” Wheeler said at a press conference this afternoon, according to Willamette Week. “I have also asked my staff to evaluate options to hold accountable those who recklessly drain our public safety resources by using our city as a venue for planned street violence.”

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Portland has become a flashpoint for alt-right violence in the past few years, as armed alt-right groups like Patriot Prayer have regularly faced off against anti-fascist counter protestors during demonstrations and events in the city.

Per Willamette Week:

What began in the spring of 2017 as improvised confrontations in downtown parks—usually marked by insults and culminating in a punch or two—has grown into chaotic rolling brawls that rage the length of a city block. Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys have made Portland their primary destination for antagonizing masked antifascists.

Antifa has often taken the bait, throwing punches and deploying bear spray on helmeted right-wingers who use flag poles as weapons. The fights, which often pit one unlucky person against half a dozen adversaries, are bloody beatings, drawing national scorn.

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The wild thing is that the only way Mayor Wheeler found out about the rooftop weapons was while reviewing a draft of the ordinance—nobody thought to tell him before then. Per Oregon Live (emphasis mine):

Wheeler learned about the rooftop weapons cache Monday while reviewing an ordinance drafted for him that is intended to end that pattern, said spokeswoman Sophia June. The ordinance would restrict the time and place protesters may demonstrate in Portland if they have clashed violently before.

Wheeler’s chief of staff, Michael Cox, said the mayor is briefed by police officials after major events, including large protests. The mayor, who is also the city police commissioner, apparently did not learn of the rooftop incident at the briefing following it. Those briefings “might not include every piece of information,” Cox said.

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Willamette Week notes that many of the alt-right protestors often come from out-of-town specifically to instigate violence, but city officials rarely stop confrontations before they begin. Just this weekend, a hastily-organized Patriot Prayer march devolved into a street brawl that cops eventually broke up with pepper balls. Police response, when it does happen, has often been disproportionately targeted toward the anti-fascist and leftist protestors.

What’s more, all of this violence is being fueled by bad-faith hysteria on the part of conservative commentators, who have seldom missed an opportunity to call attention to the “antifa mobs.”

Per Willamette Week, the protest that devolved into a brawl was a response to conservative media stoking the flames after a largely peaceful protest against the police shooting of Patrick Kimmons:

Joey Gibson, the leader of Vancouver, Wash.-based protest group Patriot Prayer, organized the march in response to a series of conservative media stories criticizing Mayor Ted Wheeler and Portland police for a hands-off response to small protests against police brutality last weekend. A couple of videos showing protesters yelling at motorists and standing in the street led Fox News and others to criticize Wheeler for allowing “mob rule” in his city.

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According to Oregon Live, the police say both right-wing and leftist protestors have carried weapons, although Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw didn’t specify whether or not anti-fascists often took up overwatch positions with sniper rifles.

Update, 11:30 PM, 10/15/2018:

I reached out to the Portland police bureau to clarify the type of firearms found on the roof, and I’ll update this story if I hear back. The article’s headline has been updated.

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Correction, 12:00 AM, 10/16/2018:

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that “long guns” “clearly indicates a rifle.” Long guns may also refer to shotguns. Wording has been added to the paragraph to reflect this correction. It now reads:

The term “long gun” typically refers to a rifle with a lengthy barrel for shooting at distance. It’s a blanket term that can also include shotguns, but it seems unlikely to me that it refers to a shotgun in this case. Gun nuts will debate semantics over what exactly constitutes a sniper rifle (were they semi-automatic or bolt action, what caliber were they chambered in, etc etc), but colloquially, the term is apt if the “long guns” were rifles.