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'I'm On Edge': Portland Area Braces For Opposing Rallies On Labor Day

After more than 100 days of protests in Portland, there is fatigue and increasing anxiety heading into opposing Labor Day demonstrations as officials urge protesters on opposing sides to stop the violence.

Among labor organizers and Black Lives Matter supporters, who began convening on the city's streets to protest police brutality and social injustice following the killing of George Floyd in May, there is a growing sense of dread over a possible confrontation with pro-Trump groups.

"We're out here and we need to be, but I'm tired and I'm on edge," demonstrator Chep Ortega said at a rally on Sunday evening.

"I'm also terrified," she added, noting rising tensions between opposing groups since late last month, when a member of a far-right group called Patriot Prayer was killed at an opposing protest.

The suspected shooter, Michael Reinoehl, was fatally shot by law enforcement in an attempted arrest on Thursday.

Ortega, 29, said she's been participating in demonstrations nearly every weekend since they began in May. But now, as demonstrators increasingly face off against each other, she said she feels a fundamental shift has occurred.

On Monday, crowds are expected to turn out at two large demonstrations in the Portland area.

Labor organizers have planned a rally at Portland's Cathedral Park, while Trump supporters have organized a caravan rally somewhere outside of Multnomah County, where Portland is located.

Oregon For Trump 2020, the group behind the "cruise rally," waited to announced the location of the rally until early Monday morning local time.

In a Facebook post, the group said it would not announce its route until the start of the rally "to show respect to the local law enforcement and to provide safety to all involved."

They also pledged, "Our event WILL NOT be going into Multnomah County to help keep everyone" safe, and added that they have arranged for local law enforcement to "be at our starting and ending locations."

But Ortega is not convinced that all attendees will adhere to that promise.

"Last time they said they'd be peaceful and look at what happened," she said referring to the Aug. 29 rally in which they paraded into the city and Aaron 'Jay' Danielson was killed. "They wanted something to happen."

Videos circulating on social media recorded before Danielson was shot show Patriot Prayer members in trucks and cars pepper spraying bystanders, firing paint gun pellets into crowds and pointing weapons at them.

Although Patriot Prayer is not listed among the caravan organizers, the Vancouver, Wash.,-based group is expected to participate in the event.

At a vigil for Danielson on Saturday night, Patriot Prayer leaders urged members to remain peaceful at future rallies.

"Do not take the bait," said one of several speakers, who knew Danielson. "There are people ... who want us to be violent. We're not going to do it."

Chester Doles, however, is not convinced that Patriot Prayer members and other groups like it should take the pacifist route. Doles, a white supremacist activist with a long history of Ku Klux Klan involvement, traveled to Portland from Georgia to attend Danielson's memorial and take part in the pro-Trump demonstrations.

"Blood's done been spilled," Doles said. "Either you curl up in the fetal position and let them just run over you or you defend yourself."

As he spoke, Stephanie Dedmore, shook her head in disagreement.

"It's overwhelming and scary," Dedmore said.

"I just want a peaceful country. It's America. People should have the freedom of speech, the freedom of thought. I'm kind of right-leaning but I love everybody."

Moments later she added, "But at this point, they've just let the bad people take it over."

Leading into the weekend, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and several other state and municipal officials, including Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, condemned all violent protests.

"The violence must stop," the officials said the letter. "There is no place for white supremacy or vigilantism in Oregon. All who perpetrate violent crimes must be held equally accountable."

Portland protesters set fire to two mattresses across the street from the Portland Police Bureau's north precinct on Sunday night.
Vanessa Romo / NPR
Portland protesters set fire to two mattresses across the street from the Portland Police Bureau's north precinct on Sunday night.

Shortly before marching toward the Portland Police Bureau's North Precinct on Sunday night, protester Rico De Vera said he's bracing for "some kind of conflict" on Monday, though he doesn't expect it to be widespread.

He noted the heavy presence of state troopers across the city and Portland Police Bureau officers, who have repeatedly declared riots as confrontations between protesters and officers continue to escalate.

On Saturday night, police in riot gear unleashed several volleys of tear gas and flash-bang grenades on the crowds after several demonstrators lobbed "multiple fire bombs, mortars, rocks and other items at officers, police said.

On Sunday night, protesters dragged two full-size mattresses onto NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., a four lane thoroughfare, and set them ablaze across the street from the police department's North Precinct.

Police say 15 people were arrested.

"They're coming down hard now," De Vera said.

NPR's Nathan Rott contributed to this report.

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