PORTLAND - A right-wing protester walked through downtown Portland with an airsoft gun Sunday night, at one point leveling the gun at a journalist during one of several clashes between right-wing activists and anti-fascist protesters over the weekend.
Several journalists and observers at the scene initially reported that the weapon was an AR-15 assault rifle, causing added alarm. Newsweek ran with the report, disseminating the misinformation to a national audience.
However, Portland Police Lt. Greg Pashley told The Oregonian/OregonLive that police talked with the man carrying the weapon outside the Multnomah County Justice Center Sunday night and determined he was carrying an airsoft gun after inspecting the weapon. An airsoft gun is a toy gun used in airsoft sports that is designed to shoot projectiles often made of plastic.
Yet, people on the scene weren’t aware that the gun was a replica as the man in tactical gear paced through downtown with the large weapon.
Despite the tense situation playing out downtown, police did not respond. It was the second night in a row that police chose to stay away as right and left-wing groups clashed downtown.
Pashley, the Portland police lieutenant, said police were aware of groups fighting downtown Sunday and using bear spray, airsoft guns, paintball guns and possibly other weapons. He said at the time of those incidents, officers were responding to several other calls, including a homicide on a TriMet bus at Southeast 26th Avenue and Southeast Hawthorne Street, as well as a robbery near Northwest First Avenue and Northwest Davis Street. He said those incidents tied up a significant number of officers for hours.
Pashley did not respond to questions as to why police didn’t respond to this event when they have responded to other calls in the past reporting firearms that turned out to be replica weapons.
One of Portland police’s two fatal police shootings this year involved a replica weapon. On April 16, Portland Police Officer Zachary DeLong shot and killed Robert Delgado in Lents Park, after it was reported that Delgado had a gun in the park. After DeLong killed Delgado, investigators found a replica gun near him.
A spokesperson for Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is the Portland police commissioner, did not respond to a request for comment on the incident Sunday or the bureau’s lack of response.
On Saturday, right-wing activists from outside Portland and anti-fascists faced off downtown during a religious event where Pastor Artur Pawlowski spoke. Pawlowski has publicly expressed anti-LGBT and anti-mask views. Police did not intervene as protesters sprayed pepper spray and shot paintballs at each other.
On Sunday, Christian singer Sean Feucht, who has held concerts throughout the pandemic to flout COVID-19 restrictions, held a gathering at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Anti-fascists clashed with far-right activists who were contracted to work security at the event, including Joey Gibson, leader of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer and Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, a member of the right-wing extremist group the Proud Boys, according to journalists at the scene.
According to those reports, right-wing protesters clashed with left-wing counter-protesters for more than an hour, and police drove by but did not stop. Vehicles drove through the crowd, and members of each group launched munitions at each other. Journalists reported that Toese and his group threw Roman candle fireworks at left-wing protesters as they left the scene.
Close to 11 p.m., several journalists reported the man with the airsoft rifle walking around downtown. Journalists captured the man on photo and video walking through busy areas and pointing the weapon in the direction of at least two people, including a bystander and a journalist.
The man then walked to the Portland Police Bureau’s Central Precinct, and went up to police with his hands on his head.
Pashley said it is legal to carry an airsoft gun in public, but said the man could still face charges. He was not cited or arrested on Sunday. Pashley said police did not make any arrests related to the clashes over the weekend.
Oregon is an open-carry state, but it is illegal to carry a loaded firearm in the city of Portland without a concealed carry permit.
Pashley said the bureau would follow up on crimes reported from Sunday evening.
“They cannot follow up on crimes that are not reported,” Pashley said in an email to The Oregonian/OregonLive. “We encourage anyone who may have been a victim of a crime to call and report it.”
Members of right-wing groups have previously brought weapons into downtown without being arrested.
In August of 2018, members of Patriot Prayer brought guns to a downtown rooftop before a protest. Police said they found four people on top of a parking garage at Southwest First Avenue and Southwest Jefferson Street with three rifles, all in cases. Police said none of the rifles were loaded, and that one was disassembled. All of the men had concealed weapons, according to police.
An anti-fascist protester, Michael Forest Reinoehl, also brought a gun to a protest last August, and fatally shot right-wing demonstrator Aaron “Jay” Danielson after a pro-Trump rally in downtown Portland. Reinoehl was later shot and killed in Washington by police after a warrant was issued for his arrest.