Aside from a few isolated skirmishes throughout the day, the “God, Guns and Liberty” rally Saturday, Aug. 10, in downtown Eugene was mostly free of violence, despite one man’s efforts to sow chaos. The efforts of a de-escalation team and a team of legal observers played a role in keeping things peaceful.
In a weekend press release, Eugene Police Department public information director Melinda McLaughlin writes that, “For the [God, Guns and Liberty] event, there were reports of possible counter protests and the city planned extensively for the potential impact of these events occurring simultaneously.”
McLaughlin confirms reports to Eugene Weekly that EPD had requested and received officers from Portland Police Bureau. Those officers were on hand for the rally, waiting just inside the county building, but were never called on.
Springfield Police Department and the Lane County Sheriff’s office assisted with patrol during the event, allowing EPD to focus resources on the rally.
Aside from briefly coming into the crowd to arrest Brandon Alan Howard, 33, of Springfield for disorderly conduct, EPD primarily remained on the perimeter of the rally and took no steps to separate the groups.
Instead, a rotating group of individuals served as a de-escalation team, standing between rally-goers and counter-protesters during the rally’s more heated moments.
Sarah Pishioneri, who was part of the team, says she was driven by community concern.
“I’ve got folks I care about who spend Saturdays at the plaza,” she says. “I did what I could to help our community stay safe and feel supported in spite of the circumstances.”
A statement from another member of the de-escalation team says they were, “A group of community members attending neutrally to support a non-violent counter protest using de-escalation skills.”
Locally, de-escalation training is offered by the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC).
A contingent of National Lawyers Guild legal observers coordinated by the CLDC were also present. As a matter of policy, legal observers refrain from protest. But CLDC lawyer Cooper Brinson says rally-goers frequently attempted to goad observers.
“At Saturday’s rally in Eugene, Trump supporters, white-nationalists, white supremacists and other right-wing supporters made several attempts to distract and divide the attention of legal observers,” Brinson writes in a statement to EW. “They also made several attempts to bait legal observers into physical altercations. Our legal observers resisted these attempts and remained calm.”
In addition to the efforts of the de-escalation team, dancing played a unique role in keeping tensions low. One man danced dressed only in a thong near some of the armed rally-goers, and the newly crowned Eugene SLUG Queen SluGoddess Slime Shine, aka Jenette Kime, danced with the local Thrill the World, a dance troupe known for dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” at Halloween.
Leading up to the event, many on the God, Guns and Liberty Facebook page speculated that Antifa would come out against the rally and cause violence against the group. While some of the counter-protesters may have been affiliated with Antifa, there was not a visible organized Antifa presence.
A right-wing rally and Antifa counter-protest in Portland in 2018 turned violent and was declared a riot after the two groups clashed. That and other clashes around the country have contributed to the violent reputation of these right-wing rallies by Patriot Prayer, Proud Boys and other right-wing groups and the response by Antifa.
Another Proud Boys rally in Portland is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 17.
Fears that a similar situation would occur in Eugene never materialized.
Howard, who was the only person arrested during the rally, was dressed in black Antifa-esque attire and was there to agitate counter-protesters. Howard posts to Facebook as “Brian Fife.” Two accounts under that name feature pro-Trump content as well as content from local white supremacist Jake Laskey.
Howard was seen mingling with rally-goers shortly before he was arrested. When EW asked what Howard had said to them, they replied saying he was “undercover.” They refused to make any other comments.
Organizer Andrew Allwander tells EW in a message that Howard was not affiliated with his group and that “Nobody knew what the hell he was talking about.” He adds, “You know very well in public places random people can do things.”
In a previous conversation with Allwander prior to the rally, EW asked what measures would be taken to ensure none of the rally-goers would initiate violence. Allwander responded he would ask people to stay peaceful but that he ultimately can’t control other people’s actions.
“Can Antifa stop their people from attacking people and hitting them over the head with batons?” he asks. He alleges that “far-left Antifa people have been beating people up in Portland.”
Allwander asks: “Do they disavow them? Do they stop them? We can’t do anything about that, right? So why is it on me to stop only the right-wing people?”