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Pro-Trump Rally In Portland Is A Flash Point Between Opposing Groups


We're going to head now to Portland, Ore., where people are still grappling with the murders that took place aboard a public train last week. Three men were stabbed, two of them fatally. Witnesses said the men were defending two teenagers from someone who was screaming anti-Muslim insults at them.

In the wake of that violence, a rally that had already been scheduled this weekend in support of President Trump has become a flashpoint between opposing groups. Some of the groups say the right is inciting violence. Others say the left is suppressing free speech. The rallies are officially over, but there have been reports of arrests and clashes with Portland police who responded with tear gas and flashbang grenades.

Amelia Templeton is with member station Oregon Public Broadcasting. She's been covering the rallies and the counter-protest today. She's with us now from downtown Portland. Amelia, thanks so much for joining us.


MARTIN: Amelia, you've been there for several hours now. What are you seeing and hearing now?

TEMPLETON: Well, right now I'm in a parking garage above Portland's 4th Avenue. I'm looking at a group of about three dozen police officers who are checking the IDs of a whole bunch of protesters, bystanders and even a few journalists who they detained on this street. After the official rallies ended, the police clashed with the anti-fascist group. They took off on foot, moving down the street. And it ended with this kind of mass detention of a whole bunch of people. And at this point, just the last few people are being released.

MARTIN: Now, when we spoke with you earlier, the rally was mostly peaceful. Do you recall when things turned? What happened?

TEMPLETON: You know, it happened after the sort of formal program of speakers at the right-wing rally ended. And then people around 4 o'clock were just kind of left milling about and wondering what to do. And at that point, it was a little difficult to see, but it seemed like both the protesters on the right and the group of anti-fascists across from them started to move towards each other.

And the police responded very aggressively with flashbang grenades - almost sounds like a bomb going off or gunfire - and with I believe either tear gas or some other kind of stinging gas. And they started moving the groups sort of - and specifically moving the anti-fascists, pushing them back by a block further away from the right-wing ralliers. And the right-wing protest continued for about an hour. People just kind of milled around as increasingly the focus was kind of this clash between the police and the anti-fascists.

MARTIN: Could you tell us who is behind the original rally, the pro-Trump rally? It's being billed - I'm not sure. Is it a pro-Trump rally or a free-speech rally? What was the original impetus, and what did they say their purpose was?

TEMPLETON: So it was organized by a man named Joey Gibson, who's from Vancouver, Wash. He attended the Republican National Convention last year and said that after watching all of this footage of protests around the country, he believes that conservatives and libertarians needed a street presence to face off against protesters on the left. And he has sort of become part of this broader group of alt-right or, some would say, white supremacist figures who've traveled around the country to places like New Orleans and Berkeley and faced off against liberals.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Amelia, this protest seems to have really touched a nerve. Was it always provocative or seen as provocative? Is there something different now after the attack on the train?

TEMPLETON: It was particularly provocative because of the attack on the train and because the suspect in that case has used language that echoes some of the things that these rallies say. He said free speech or die, for example, and death to anti-fascists. And so many people argued that it was simply sort of insensitive to do this now. But of course on the right, they say free speech is inconvenient.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, do you happen to know what the disposition will be for the people who the police are holding at the moment? Do we know?

TEMPLETON: We don't. They've said some could be charged with disorderly conduct, but in these cases, often people are released and not charged.

MARTIN: OK. That's Amelia Templeton with Oregon Public Broadcasting speaking to us from downtown Portland. Amelia, thank you.

TEMPLETON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.