The leader of a large right-wing militia group told followers to skip a planned rally in Portland, Oregon, on Saturday, saying that organizers hadn’t properly kept white nationalists away from the event and that attendees could face legal consequences.
In a statement on his group’s website, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes said he owed it to his membership to disavow the so-called “End Domestic Terrorism” rally, where attendees will demand that anti-fascists, or “antifa,” be labeled a terrorist group.
“We do not believe the organizers are taking the steps necessary to ensure that white nationalist and suspected white nationalist groups and individuals will be excluded,” he wrote.
Rhodes expressed concern that threats of violence from the right could put attendees at legal risk.
Citing the work of anarchist news website It’s Going Down, Rhodes pointed to the archived posts the site has collected that show prominent far-right figures, including the event’s organizers, seemingly threatening violence.
Rhodes said that statements that can be “construed as expressing an intent to come to Portland to seek out Antifa and engage them in street fights” or “worse” could “potentially expose all attendees to possible prosecution using both an Oregon state ‘rioting’ statute and a federal rioting statute.”
Joe Biggs, an event organizer and former InfoWars host who frequently posts threatening messages and memes online, claimed in a recent Facebook post flagged by The Oregonian that the FBI had asked him to “tone down” the rhetoric about the event.
“Everyone in law enforcement is on edge after these last two shootings,” he wrote, presumably referring to the shooting massacres in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, recently.
The Portland Police Bureau said in a statement earlier this month, “Based on publicly-available information, the Bureau is concerned events on August 17 may involve persons interested in participating in criminal activity.”
Messaging for Saturday’s rally has focused on the assault of right-wing commentator Andy Ngo in Portland in late June. Video from the last time the right-wing “Proud Boys” gang rallied in Portland appeared to show counterprotesters — clad in black with their faces covered, a uniform of some — attacking Ngo and pouring milkshakes on him. The footage spread like wildfire on the right and was touted by conservatives as supposed evidence of the left’s terrorism problem, and used as fodder for Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Bill Cassidy’s (R-LA) resolution calling antifascists a domestic terrorist organization.
But Portland has seen multiple violent confrontations in recent years between extreme right-wing groups, including outright hate groups, and anti-fascists.
Rhodes’ note to Oath Keepers membership came on the same day the leader of the ultranationalist group Patriot Prayer, Joey Gibson, was reportedly charged with felony rioting over a brawl at a Portland cidery on May Day. (Gibson’s attorney denied wrongdoing.) The group’s leader is one of several people charged recently in relation to the incident.