A car made its way through a pro-Trump rally outside the Eugene Federal Courthouse building on Jan. 9 blasting the song “FDT,” or Fuck Donald Trump, by rapper YG. A driver and two passengers rolled their windows down, dancing to the song and chanting the lyrics at the rally-goers. Almost immediately, men donning Proud Boys attire — the distinctive Fred Perry polo shirts of the far-right, male-only political organization known for inciting violence — surrounded the vehicle, some punching the windows and roof. One man shouted the n-word at the driver and threatened to “curb stomp him if he tried anything.”
As the car began to move again, a protester threw a drink into the open window. The driver then threw a drink back. One of the passengers, a 21-year-old who asked not to be named for safety reasons, exited the vehicle brandishing a Bible in front of his chest and told the pro-Trump crowd, “God loves you.”
Tensions were already high at the “Stand Against Socialism” rally outside the Eugene Federal Courthouse that kicked off at noon Jan. 9. What began as a seemingly peaceful demonstration by approximately 100 right-wing Trump supporters soon turned antagonistic.
The 21-year-old Bible brandisher later said he had no intention of starting a fight, but after listening to the chants of “fuck Antifa” and “fuck BLM” from a nearby apartment building, decided he wanted to drive through the rally and let attendees know “they shouldn’t have this hatred in their hearts.”
“I feel they are uneducated as to who Antifa is,” the man said. “How can you say the Pledge of Allegiance, which says ‘liberty and justice for all,’ and then say ‘fuck BLM?’”
At 12:40 pm, less than an hour into the event, a riot was declared by the Eugene Police Department in response to a “six person fight with sticks in the middle of 8th and Mill,” in which 70 or so people rushed to the altercation, according to a later press release.
During the fight, a man wearing a “Trump: Four More Years” shirt was knocked to the ground and beaten with his flag pole. The attackers fled the scene. The man, who later says he goes by the name of Pirate on account of the black patch over his left eye, lay in the street.
As Eugene police officers huddled over him, a pro-Trump protester yelled “Fucking Antifa protector!” at the surrounding police.
One rally-goer named Betty, who asked not to disclose her last name for privacy reasons, watched the altercation from the sidewalk, shaking her head. She says she recognized Pirate from other pro-Trump events. “This is always happening to him.”
Many rally-goers asked not to have their full names used, citing fears of doxxing — having their names and information posted on the internet to invite retaliation — or citing distrust of “the media.”
In a manner quite different from their interactions with Black Lives Matter protesters, officers helped the man to his feet and warned the gathering crowd to get back on the sidewalk. Pirate did not appear to be seriously injured. The group began to chant “fuck Antifa!” as an officer announced that the gathering had been declared a riot saying, “Failure to disperse will result in the use of teargas and impact weapons.”
Ultimately the crowd complied and no teargas was deployed. While protesters accused police officers of “protecting Antifa” for not immediately identifying the assailants, later arrests were made. Three men — Jon Bruegger, age 29, John Saunders, age 33, and Richard Dwayne Elce, no age specified — were taken into custody for disorderly conduct, according to an EPD press release.
Although the gathering was referred to as the “Stand Against Socialism Rally” on online event announcements, attendees seemed to stand for various issues. Large handwritten signs of “Abolish Tyranny” and “Arrest Kate Brown” were hung from the outside of the building, while a sound system blasted loud country music behind the voice of the occasional volunteer speaker.
Protesters, many hailing from different states, held “Trump 2020” signs alongside “QAnon” flags. QAnon is a disproven far-right conspiracy theory alleging that a ring of Satan-worshipping and pedophilic cannibals are plotting the downfall of President Donald Trump. Followers of the conspiracy believe in a mass underground system of politicians and media-controllers who rule the world with evil intent.
The Proud Boys quickly left when police officers arrived and declared a riot.
One couple, Suzanne Stratton and Stewart Poths, said they attended the event to protest “the rise of socialism” in the U.S. The pair set up a merchandise booth outside the courthouse, selling Trump 2020 hats and sweatshirts reading “God, Guns and Trump.”
Occasionally when someone approached the table to browse through the clothing, they were greeted with a hug — according to Poths, the pro-Trump community in the Northwest is relatively small, and they run into the same people at various events.
“I’m here because I’m a nationalist,” said Poths, an insurance broker from Washington. “The elite is rising, while the rest of Americans are suffering.”
Poths echoed the frustrations of many others at the rally, complaining that, “Our American industries are failing. Then Donald Trump came along and said, ‘Put America first.’”
Poths said he fears the rise of China as a global power and believes that President-elect Joe Biden may lead the country into communism. Several other protesters expressed fear of Chinese influence in American industries, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You think this virus just came out of here out of the blue, right before the election?” Stratton said. “Viruses can be created and sent over here.”
The rally comes at a time of increased national political tension. The Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters, resulting in five deaths, has drawn mixed reactions from conservatives — some rally-attendees claimed the attackers were really undercover Antifa members, while others proudly claimed the demonstrators as their own. The upcoming inauguration of Biden was also widely discussed.
Near the end of the event, a speaker took the podium for a speech that was at times brazenly angry, and at others desperate and tearful. “On Jan. 20,” he said, “civil war may be coming.”
The rally ended around 2:30 pm, after lasting approximately two and a half hours. The designation of “riot” was apparently revoked after the rally calmed down.