A May 5 rally brought out about 40 Trumpian flag-wavers and more than 100 protesters who tried to drown them out.
Protesters say they didn’t show up to the Sunday rally on the Harlow Road I-5 overpass because of President Donald Trump’s red-attired supporters. They say they were concerned with white supremacists like Joey Gibson of Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys coming to the Eugene-Springfield area.
Police, dressed in riot gear and some armed with riot guns, blocked off Harlow Road, one of the roadways connecting Eugene-Springfield.
The organizers of the May 5 rally says it was intended to prove that the area supports Trump’s America First policies. The rally was supposed to feature a lineup of conservative and right-wing speakers including Gibson and Joey Nations, both of whom brawled in Portland with Patriot Prayer.
Although Gibson didn’t show up, the rally and protest gave Eugene-Springfield a taste of what usually happens in Portland — clashes between white supremacists and their protesters.
“They got punked into thinking he was going to show,” says Carol Leek, founder of Oregon Women for Trump (OWFT), which organized the rally.
Leek tells Eugene Weekly she knows protesters came because of the speaker lineup. OWFT decided not to have the speakers show up because Leek says she thought Antifa would threaten families attending the event. But OWFT still wanted to wave U.S. flags and Trump paraphernalia on the Harlow Road overpass.
The rally’s announcement didn’t say who the security would be. When it turned out to be about five Proud Boys from Portland and the region, according to Eugene Antifa’s early estimates, tensions stayed high between flag-wavers and protesters.
Leek says Proud Boys contacted her, asking whether OWFT wanted security, and even offered to give them a ride in their bus.
“Proud Boys know we’re a group of women, they’re protectors like that,” she says. “If they want to be security, I’m fine with that.”
Proud Boys are a nationwide group, but its Portland members are known to engage in violence at rallies. According to Eugene Antifa, ralliers also included Patriot Prayer followers. One of the Patriot Prayer followers at the rally was David Willis, who, along with Gibson, has been sued by Cider Riot for $1 million.
A chainsaw-wielding protester, who occasionally fired up his chainsaw to mute the flag-wavers, said he wasn’t anti-Trump — just anti-white supremacist. The chainsaw had no teeth and was wrapped in a sweatshirt.
On the other side of the street, those associated with the flag-wavers carried Glocks, bear spray and at least one Taser.
While at the rally, one of the Proud Boys, a middle-aged bearded man named Dan who wouldn’t give EW his last name, said they were there to protect women from the “violent Antifa,” who he says were engaging in intimidation tactics to prevent the flag-wavers from exercising their freedom of speech.
Other Trump supporters told EW they were just there to support Trump and weren’t white supremacists, and they even agreed with protesters that the KKK shouldn’t be in the U.S. They added that Trump couldn’t be an anti-Semite because his son-in-law and daughter are Jewish.
Dan pointed to a nearby woman who wore bright red lipstick, a MAGA hat and waving a U.S. flag. He asked EW, “Don’t you think she has a right to freedom of speech?”
Members of Eugene Antifa and Rose City Antifa were at the protest, but there were also members of the local Democratic Socialists of America chapter and anarchists as well as families and students.
As protesters beat on snare drums and belted out chants through a bullhorn, some protesters engaged in yelling matches with flag-wavers, such as, “No Trump, No KKK, no fascist USA.”
Flag-wavers joined in the chant, saying instead, “No KKK, no socialism in the USA.”
Will, who didn’t give his last name, told EW that he didn’t care about Trump supporters — he has friends who support the president. He was there to see if local racist Jimmy Marr and his group of “boneheads” would show up.
“I’m here to see if any Nazis show up,” he added.
Will said he aligns with the non-racist skinhead movement from the early 1970s and was angry how racists like Proud Boys have appropriated the skinhead look, such as wearing Fred Perry polo shirts.
By the end of the event, about 40 police were present to minimize interactions between the flag-wavers and protesters. Both Eugene Police Department and Springfield Police Department brought their respective SWAT teams to assist the police. Lane County Sheriff’s Department and Oregon State Police were also present.
Leek says she was approached by police officers about ending the rally after it had been going on for nearly two hours and jamming up the roadway that connects Eugene-Springfield. She says she refused.
“I said, ‘No, we’re going to leave when we’re ready to leave,’” she says.
Leek says both cities’ police departments did a lot better than Portland Police Department when it deals with these sort of protests, but she doesn’t feel bad about the costs associated to have police there to block the road.
“Of course they’re gonna say that,” Leek says about the Springfield chief’s disappointment in having so many police officers at the protest and paying overtime. “We have every right to stand up for freedom of speech for two-and-a-half hours.”
UPDATED: 12:30 pm Thursday, May 9