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Right-wing protesters gather outside Portland, adding to tensions

SALEM, Ore. — More than 1,000 supporters of President Trump, including some aligned with white nationalist extremist groups, gathered in northwest Oregon on Monday night in a show of force against left-wing protesters, creating even more tension in a region that has been rocked by weeks of protests.

On Monday evening, despite National Weather Service warnings of an extreme wind storm, hundreds of cars, trucks, tractors, motorcycles and at least one RV hoisted Trump flags and blasted “God Bless The U.S.A.” from truck bed speakers for a “cruise rally” through the suburbs of Portland. Some members of the group then drove about 50 miles to Salem, where they gathered in front of the state capitol.

Armed with rifles, pistols, knives and clubs, the far-right demonstrators at one point charged into a smaller group of liberal counterprotesters, knocking at least one activist to the ground.

The event’s organizers said their “Oregon For Trump 2020 Labor Day Cruise Rally” was designed to show support for the president, following weeks of protests and violent clashes between protesters and police, as well as between protesters and pro-Trump counterprotesters in downtown Portland.

The crowd, which initially gathered in a community college parking lot in Oregon City, Ore., about 30 minutes from downtown Portland, included armed people wearing bulletproof vests or shirts bearing the name of Aaron “Jay” Danielson, the slain supporter of the far-right group Patriot Prayer. There were also families with young children and adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Some identified themselves as members of the Proud Boys, a self-identified western chauvinist group that the FBI has said has ties to white nationalism.

The rally’s organizers wrote on Facebook that the caravan would not enter Multnomah County, where Portland is located, to keep its participants safe. At a similar rally last weekend, drivers deviated from the route and entered downtown Portland, where a rally participant, Danielson, was shot and killed.

The Portland rally caps a holiday weekend that saw fresh protests and political demonstrations erupt in cities nationwide, some of which became violent on Friday and Saturday. By end of the weekend, the number of protesters in many cities had dwindled, with only scattered clashes between demonstrators and police.

Still, President Trump spent part of his Labor Day lashing out at racial justice demonstrators and elected officials in Portland, as well as in New York and Rochester, N.Y., where tensions had been running high after a video surfaced last week showing a fatal encounter between police and a Black man who had been suffering a mental health crisis.

“Rochester N.Y., Brooklyn N.Y., Portland – All had bad nights, all weakly run by Radical Left Democrat Governors and Mayors! Get the picture?” Trump said on Twitter. At a news conference later in the day at the White House, Trump said local police should seek “retribution” against unruly protesters who throw objects at them.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren (D) responded by urging residents in her town to ignore Trump, accusing him of trying to “incite people” to further his own election-year political ambitions.

On Monday in Portland, the mood among Trump supporters gathered in the parking lot was, in part, celebratory and festive. Some Trump supporters grilled hot dogs, and women sported bikini tops. But some drivers had also taped over their license plates to conceal their identities, and others had painted Danielson’s name on their car windows.

Local police, who protesters have repeatedly criticized as being too cozy with right-wing activists, helped guide traffic. Organizers said they planned to drive north on the interstate to a certain point, where police vehicles would block the street for drivers to turn around. A group of Proud Boys planned to drive ahead to Salem, where liberal protesters were also beginning to gather on Monday evening.

One 47-year-old Portland resident who joined the “cruise rally” Monday said she had grown even more resolute in her support for the president after someone dropped objects onto her car windshield when she and her husband drove into Portland during last weekend’s pro-Trump caravan, and someone else hurled a profane insult at her.

The woman, who gave her name only as Kim because she said she feared she could be targeted by left-wing protesters after the slaying of Danielson, had arrived at the rally in a gray Dodge truck, its flatbed outfitted with two American flags, a thin blue line flag to show support for the police, and a Trump flag.

“We are all going to be peaceful,” she said. “If they want to keep being violent and lie about us, we’ll just get more and more patriots out here.”

But in Salem, about 100 pro-Trump protesters quickly became confrontational. They unfurled a large American flag on the steps of the capitol, rousing the crowd to shout the Pledge of Allegiance and chant, “Whose flag? Our flag!” Then they charged into a small crowd of leftist protesters, chasing them through a plaza. One activist was knocked to the ground before police intervened.

“Go back to your side,” an officer shouted.

“This is America,” a Trump supporter responded.

“You’re right, but there’s no point to it, go back over there now,” the officer said.

Black Lives Matter protesters also planned demonstrations in Portland on Monday afternoon. Protests the previous night were relatively subdued, as about a hundred demonstrators gathered outside a police precinct to burn several mattresses, an activity that nonetheless has alarmed some residents and city officials for its potential to spawn wider destruction.

The National Weather Service on Monday alerted fire agencies to “extremely critical” risk for dangerous fire conditions in the Portland metro area Monday and Tuesday, due to strong winds combined with low humidity.

City officials in Rochester, N.Y., meanwhile, praised a group of volunteer church “elders” for keeping the peace there on Sunday night, after days of protests and clashes shook the East Coast city. The elders stood as human buffers between police and protesters, a move Warren and the city police department credited with preventing a fresh outbreak of violence.

Protesters there have demonstrated and sporadically clashed with police over the past several days to demand justice for Daniel Prude, a Black man who died of asphyxiation after being detained and hooded by police.

Warren, as well as the city’s police force, thanked the church members, led by the Rev. Myra Brown of Spiritus Christi Church, after the protests concluded peacefully and police refrained from using violent tactics.

“There are no arrests to report,” the Rochester Police Department said in a statement late Sunday. “The Rochester Police Department would like to thank our local and state law enforcement partners for their assistance and a special thanks to Dr. Myra Brown and a group of community elders for keeping the protest safe and allowing everyone’s voice to be heard.”

Warren said in a statement Monday, “Last night the world saw the true spirit of Rochester. Over 1,000 people came together in solidarity to remember the life of Daniel Prude and call for the change that is needed to overcome structural and institutional racism.”

Warren thanked Brown and Police Chief La’Ron Singletary, whom she said “followed my edict to adopt a smaller and more restrained posture.”

“It is clear to me that their actions were crucial to the peace we saw last night,” she added.

New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) has launched an investigation of Prude’s death, which was ruled a homicide in an April autopsy report but did not attract public attention until last week. Rochester last week also suspended seven police officers in connection with Prude’s death.

Protesters have accused Warren and Singletary, both of whom are Black, of concealing police criminal misconduct in the incident, which occurred in March. Warren has said she did not become aware of the full circumstances surrounding Prude’s death until August.

Trump has painted Rochester — as well as Portland and other cities that in recent months have seen violent clashes between police and protesters for racial justice — as resulting from Democratic-led political decisions for which he bears no fault.

“If somebody is breaking the law, there’s got to be a form of retribution,” he said in his Monday news conference.

Warren challenged Trump’s description of recent events in her city. “I ask that all involved ignore the commentary from the President,” she said in her statement, adding that “his only desire is to bait people to act with hate and incite violence that he believes will benefit him politically. We will not give him what he wants. We will continue to act with grace and do the work necessary improve Rochester and our entire community.”

Melissa DeRosa, secretary to New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), who has sparred repeatedly with Trump, on Twitter accused the president of thriving on “anarchy” to “fan the flames of hate.”

Hauslohner and Craig reported from Washington. Shayna Jacobs and Chris Libonati in Rochester contributed to this report.

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