Portland Mayor Draws Criticism After Asking Feds to Revoke Permit for Pro-Trump Rally
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler drew criticism Tuesday from free speech advocates, the American Civil Liberties Union and local conservative leaders for calling on the federal government to revoke the permit for a pro-Trump free speech rally Sunday.
By Jessica Floum
Wheeler also asked federal officials not to issue a permit for an anti-Muslim march planned for June 10.
But his spokesman, Michael Cox, said Tuesday that the mayor isn't commenting on whether he approves of an anti-bigotry, anti-islamophia rally also planned to take place downtown Sunday. Cox conveyed an inconsistent position with regard to that protest, saying, "It's not up to the mayor to sanction or not sanction speech events."
Mat dos Santos, ACLU Oregon's legal director, said Tuesday he understands the mayor's concern for safety in the wake of a hate-fueled fatal attack on a MAX train Friday. But, he said, Wheeler can't "just decide that somebody' s speech is the wrong kind of speech and shut it down."
"It's an all too familiar theme here in Portland, where the Portland police shut down constitutionally protected activities...because of the bad actions of a few," dos Santos said.
Portland native Scott Quick emailed the mayor on Tuesday urging him to retract his call to revoke rally permits.
"I vehemently oppose the alt-right agenda and any form of hate speech, but I am more opposed to your calls to revoke the permits for alt-right events," Quick wrote. "You are trampling on the First Amendment, which is more important than any single event."
Wheeler said in a Facebook post Monday that holding Sunday's rally following the double-murder of two heroes on the MAX "can only exacerbate a difficult situation."
"The mayor's request to revoke the permit is in no way intended to censor political speech," Cox said Tuesday. "The request was made because the mayor's top priority is the safety of everyone in our city. He believes that this rally is planned for the wrong time at the wrong place in the wake of a horrific double murder and in the midst of the Rose Festival."
Vancouver native Joey Gibson organized the pro-Trump rally set to take place at Terry Schrunk Park Sunday. He said in a Facebook Live video Monday that Wheeler's plea will not convince him to cancel the rally.
Gibson told The Oregonian/OregonLive Tuesday that he has arranged for informal security officers, some with permits to carry concealed handguns, to help keep participants in order.
Revoking the event permit, Gibson said, would pose more safety risks because it would limit the ability of the rally organizers to promote peaceful demonstration and to remove anyone peddling hate speech.
"It's going to be an amazing rally where we don't have hate speech," Gibson said. "If they want us to make a stance and they want us to stand up against any Nazi members, they cannot pull our permit because the permit is the only thing that gives us that right."
If anyone has a racist sign or yells anything racist, "they will be gone," Gibson added.
MAX stabbing suspect Jeremy Christian participated in an April "March for Free Speech" event that Gibson hosted, but organizers asked him to leave after he yelled racial epithets and "Die Muslims!" and threatened Gibson.
Gibson obtained a permit weeks ago for Sunday's demonstration from the U.S. General Services Administration, which owns the property across Southwest Fourth Avenue from Portland City Hall.
A self-described libertarian, Gibson said he hopes to promote conservative values, smaller government, spirituality and freedom at the rally. He said he doesn't intend to promote a particular political party, religion or skin color over others and does not discriminate based on sexuality, gender identity or race.
About 300 people indicated on Facebook as of Tuesday afternoon that they plan to attend the event, where Gibson said diverse keynote speakers will promote freedom and anti-communist perspectives.
James Buchal, chair of the Multnomah County Republican Party, told The Guardian Monday that his group is considering using militia groups as private security at Republican events. He suggested calling on the Oath Keepers, an anti-government group, and the Three Percenters, a group that pledges armed resistance against efforts to restrict gun ownership.
"We're casting around to see how we can keep our people safe," Buchal said. "One of the ideas is reaching out to these groups who see themselves as street dogs in a time of wolves."
Gibson said he has arranged for "unofficial" private security to encourage participants in his demonstration to "not provoke or be violent."
The Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters will not be there in an official capacity, Gibson said, though some of the members of his private security team are also affiliated with those groups.
Gibson's security includes about 50 to 60 private individuals, many with military backgrounds, Gibson said.
Many of the private security members have concealed carry licenses with the state, which means they will be allowed to carry concealed weapons outside the plaza, Gibson said. They will not have guns inside the plaza because that violates federal law, he said.
Gibson said his security will not deal with other protesters or attempt to arrest anyone.
"That's the job of the police," Gibson said.
Portland police spokesman Pete Simpson did not respond to multiple email requests for comment.
Gibson said speakers will include religious figures and a woman he described as transsexual who will discuss the different ways conservatives and liberals have treated her.
Alt-right activist Kyle "Based Stickman" Chapman will also speak.
Chapman became famous among alt-right conservatives and infamous among many when he broke a wooden sign post on an anti-Fascist protester's head at a March riot in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators clashed violently in Berkeley over a canceled speech by "alt-right" provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.
"The things I have to say attract a lot of different people," Gibson said. "The common thread is I'm promoting freedom, and I'm promoting spirituality."
Several protests have organized in opposition to Gibson's pro-Trump free speech rally. An event called Portland Stands United Against Hate is set to take place in Chapman Park next door. About 700 people indicated on Facebook that they would attend the protest event, endorsed by 35 immigrant rights, anti-war, mental health and religious groups.
Event organizer Nico Judd said she is in the process of getting a permit from the city. She said city officials assured organizers that they will have the space they need.
(c)2017 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)