The Long Prologue to the Capitol Hill Riot

The Long Prologue to the Capitol Hill Riot

During the past year, Portland, Oregon, has been the site of frequent public demonstrations by right-wing extremist groups. There have been events staged by the Proud Boys and another group called Patriot Prayer; anti-lockdown protests; counter-protests to the Black Lives Matter movement, pro-police “Back the Blue” demonstrations, and, eventually, in the fall, “Stop the Steal” rallies, which were focussed on the alleged threats to the integrity of the Presidential election. Whatever the protest of the day, the faces in the crowd were often the same. Some, like Joey Gibson, a man from Washington State who founded Patriot Prayer and was charged with inciting a riot in 2019, have become a little bit famous. (Gibson has pleaded not guilty to the charge.) Sergio Olmos, a journalist on the protest and extremism beat for Oregon Public Broadcasting, compared Portland’s right wing to a punk scene in a college town: some people come and go, but, over time, you begin to recognize the mainstays. You learn who’s likely to start a fight, and who’s eager to explain why they’re there. You notice when someone shaves his beard.

Shortly after the riot at the U.S. Capitol, on January 6th, Olmos got a tip from someone who said that a man in photographs from the attack in Washington appeared to be the same person who had taken part in an occupation of Oregon’s capitol, in Salem, in November. In images from both events, the man was burly, with a prominent lower jaw and a thick brown beard. In Salem, he’d gotten in the face of a journalist and screamed at him, a memorable moment in a lengthy live stream. In Washington, he’d drawn attention to himself by posing with a statue of Gerald Ford, which had a Donald Trump flag tucked under its arm and a maga hat on its head.