PORTLAND: Oregon state police were poised on Monday (Aug 31) to return to Portland after a fatal shooting this weekend, as clashes escalated between an armed right-wing group and protesters demanding racial justice and police reforms.
Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat, released a plan Sunday night in response to violence that she said was stoked by an armed right-wing group called Patriot Prayer. In addition to bringing in state police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Attorney would commit more resources to prosecuting criminal offenders.
"Every Oregonian has the right to freely express their views without fear of deadly violence. I will not allow Patriot Prayer and armed white supremacists to bring more bloodshed to our streets," Brown said in a statement.
Protests have roiled downtown Portland every night for more than three months following the May 25 killing of George Floyd, the Black man who died under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis.
The demonstrators, demanding reforms of police practices they view as racist and abusive, have frequently clashed with law enforcement and on occasion with counter-protesters associated with right-wing militia groups.
On Monday, Portland police said 29 people were arrested overnight after taking part in an unlawful gathering in northeast Portland where rocks and eggs were thrown at officers.
Two people arrested had loaded handguns and others had knives and rocks, the police said in a statement.
The clashes have exacerbated national political divisions. Republican President Donald Trump has blamed the unrest on the failure of Democratic-run governments, while Democrats say his divisive rhetoric has emboldened violent right-wing activists.
"Portland is a mess, and it has been for many years. If this joke of a mayor doesn’t clean it up, we will go in and do it for them!" Trump wrote on Twitter on Monday.
Trump has sought to crack down on protests as part of his bid to win re-election on Nov 3. In July, he deployed federal agents to Portland to guard a federal courthouse in the midst of protests, which Democrats and civil liberties groups criticised as federal overreach.
Trump was scheduled to visit Kenosha, Wisconsin, this week, the latest US city where protests against racism and excessive use of force by police at times degenerated into violence. Violent protests have rocked the city since the Aug 23 shooting by a white police officer that left a Black man, Jacob Blake, paralysed. Last week, a white teenager was charged with shooting three demonstrators - two fatally.
Authorities have not identified the shooting victim in Portland, but the New York Times reported the man gunned down was wearing a hat with the insignia of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer. On Sunday, the leader of the group, Joey Gibson, appeared to confirm that the victim was a member whom he knew.
Trump later re-tweeted a photo of a man identified as Jay Bishop and described him in that post as “a good American that loved his country and Backed the Blue,” an apparent reference to police. “He was murdered in Portland by ANTIFA.”
Trump wrote, “Rest in Peace Jay!” in his retweet.
Members of the small right-wing group Patriot Prayer have clashed with Black Lives Matter protesters for the past two weekends in Portland.
Gibson, who faces felony riot charges for a 2019 clash in Portland, said in an Aug 17 post on the group's Facebook page, "If the 'leaders' refuse to protect the innocent then it is the obligation of the people to stand for justice."
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said on Sunday that authorities were investigating whether Saturday's shooting was connected to skirmishes that night between a caravan of protesters driving through the downtown district in pickup trucks waving pro-Trump flags and counter-protesters on the streets.
Video on social media showed individuals in the beds of the pickups firing paint-balls and spraying chemical irritants at opposing demonstrators as they rode by, while those on the street hurled objects at the trucks.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said on Sunday that city officials were bracing for more violence, citing social media posts vowing revenge for Saturday's shooting.
“For those of you saying on Twitter this morning that you plan to come to Portland to seek retribution, I’m calling on you to stay away,” Wheeler said.