A man who was fatally shot after supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump clashed with counter-protesters on the streets of Portland, Ore., was a supporter of the far-right group Patriot Prayer, its founder said Sunday.
Joey Gibson, head of the group based in Washington state, told The Associated Press the man who was shot to death on Saturday night was a “good friend,” although he did not identify him.
Gibson said he was also in Portland on Saturday night when the Trump supporters clashed with Black Lives Matter protesters in the downtown. He arrived at the scene of the shooting shortly after it happened, and video from the scene showed he was briefly corralled in a nearby gas station by angry protesters.
“I can’t say much right now. All I can do is verify that he was a good friend and a supporter of Patriot Prayer,” Gibson said of the shooting victim in a text exchange. He said he would make a fuller statement later Sunday.
Patriot Prayer advocates for “free speech, gun rights and medical freedom” and opposes big government, according to its website. It also supports Trump and opposes “intimidation and harassment by the state regarding COVID-19 proclamations,” its website says.
Police issued a plea for any information related to the killing, including videos, photos or eyewitness accounts. The shooting happened about 15 minutes after a caravan of about 600 vehicles that were part of a pro-Trump rally left downtown.
It wasn’t clear if the shooting was related to the clashes between Trump supporters and counter-protesters in Portland, which has become a flashpoint in the national Black Lives Matter protests since George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis in May and an increasing centrepiece in Trump’s law-and-order re-election campaign theme.
Police have not released any information about the case but said they were aware of videos on social media that showed the shooting.
“It is still early in this investigation, and I ask everyone to give the detectives time to do their important work before drawing conclusions about what took place,” police Chief Chuck Lovell said.
“If anyone can provide information about this case, I ask them to please reach out to our detectives. This violence is completely unacceptable, and we are working diligently to find and apprehend the individual or individuals responsible.”
Portland scene of nightly protests
An Associated Press freelance photographer heard three gunshots and then saw police medics attending to the victim, who appeared to be a white man. The freelancer said the man was wearing a hat bearing the insignia of Patriot Prayer.
Police said the man was shot in the chest. He was not immediately identified, and it’s unclear who shot him.
Portland has been the site of nightly protests for more than three months since the police killing of Floyd on May 25. Many of them end in vandalism and violence, and hundreds of demonstrators have been arrested by local and federal law enforcement since late May.
In the two hours following the shooting, protesters gathered downtown, and there was sporadic fighting and vandalism, police said. Ten people were arrested, police said.
The caravan had arrived downtown just as a planned protest was getting underway. The chaotic scene came two days after Trump invoked Portland as a liberal city overrun with violence in a speech at the Republican National Convention. The caravan marked the third Saturday in a row that Trump supporters have rallied in the city.
The far-right group Patriot Prayer has a history in Portland and has repeatedly rallied supporters for pro-Trump rallies beginning in 2017. The group was founded by Gibson and is based in Washington state; supporters periodically cross into Oregon for rallies and marches.
Protesters, far-right groups collide
Counter-protesters have squared off with Patriot Prayer and other far-right groups, such as the Proud Boys and the Three Percenters, multiple times in the city since Trump’s election.
Photos and videos taken late Saturday show Gibson arrived at the scene shortly after the shooting, but it wasn’t immediately clear why he did so.
On Sunday, Trump issued a flurry of tweets and retweets, including several that blamed Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler for the death and one in which the president appeared to be encouraging his supporters to move into Portland.
“GREAT PATRIOTS!” Trump wrote as he shared video of his supporters driving into Portland to confront the protesters.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf blamed local officials for failing “to protect their communities.”
“I’m asking Portland officials — so that’s the mayor, that’s the governor and that’s local law enforcement — to do their job to address any violent activity that is occurring in their streets,” Wolf told CBS’s Face the Nation.
Wolf said the federal government was prepared to send agents to Portland and other cities to protect federal buildings and assist police.
Wheeler also came under fire on Sunday from some in his own city who have been angered by comments he made earlier this month criticizing violent demonstrators and saying they were helping Trump with his re-election. The mayor, who is also the police commissioner, has also been faulted for letting Portland police use tear gas on multiple occasions.
Several civil rights groups and protest coalitions called on Wheeler to resign. He is currently running for a second term.
“This could all have been prevented and there were 100 different decisions that could have led us on a different path,” said Bobbin Singh, executive director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center.
Wheeler was expected to hold a news conference with Lovell, the police chief, at 1 p.m. PT on Sunday.