County GOP chair James Buchal says security forces may be appropriate as tensions rise after two people died in a racial attack on public transport
As tensions continue in Portland following the racially charged murder of two men on Friday, the top Republican in the city said he was considering using militia groups as security for public events.
Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23, and Rick Best, 53, were stabbed to death and 21-year-old student Micah David-Cole Fletcher was injured when they came to the aid of two women being subjected to hate speech on public transport. The suspect, Jeremy Christian, 35, was found to hold white supremacist views and to have attended an alt-right rally in the city.
On Monday, Donald Trump issued a belated message of condolence. Asked about the presidents tweet, Portland mayor Ted Wheeler told the Guardian: Our current political climate allows far too much room for those who spread bigotry. Violent words can lead to violent acts.
All elected leaders in America, all people of good conscience, must work deliberately to change our political dialogue.
Multnomah County GOP chair James Buchal, however, told the Guardian that recent street protests had prompted Portland Republicans to consider alternatives to abandoning the public square.
I am sort of evolving to the point where I think that it is appropriate for Republicans to continue to go out there, he said. And if they need to have a security force protecting them, thats an appropriate thing too.
Asked if this meant Republicans making their own security arrangements rather than relying on city or state police, Buchal said: Yeah. And there are these people arising, like the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters.
Asked if he was considering such groups as security providers, Buchal said: Yeah. Were thinking about that. Because there are now belligerent, unstable people who are convinced that Republicans are like Nazis.
Buchal ran for Oregon attorney general in 2012 and has stood for election to Congress and the state legislature. The Oath Keepers are described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of the largest radical antigovernment groups in the US, recruiting current and former military and law enforcement personnel. They have recently appeared at rallies from Berkeley, California, to Boston, standing with activists from the far right, activists holding what were once fringe positions who have recently risen to national prominence.
The Three Percenters are described by Political Research Associates as a paramilitary group that pledges armed resistance against attempts to restrict private gun ownership. They were a highly visible presence in Burns, Oregon, before and during the occupation of the Malheur wildlife refuge by rightwing militia early in 2016.
Buchal told the Guardian it was important not to become involved with extremists, and said that on the Three Percenters website, right there on the front page there is what looks like a solid commitment to this not being about race at all.
The main reason Buchal gave for his attraction to the militia groups was the cancellation of the Avenue of the Roses Parade, an annual Portland community event scheduled for 29 April, after organisers received an anonymously emailed threat of disruption.
The anonymous message claimed Trump supporters and 3% militia were encouraging people to bring hateful rhetoric to East Portland. Two hundred or more people, the email said, would rush into the middle and drag and push those people out.
When the parade was called off, Buchal issued a statement in which he bemoaned a criminal conspiracy to commit crimes of riot and a letter to Mayor Wheeler in which he lamented rising lawlessness in Portland.
In response to the cancellation, a local far-right organizer, Joey Gibson, organized a free speech rally the event at which Christian, the suspect in Fridays double murder, was filmed throwing fascist salutes and yelling racial epithets, and where he approached antifascist counter-protesters armed with a baseball bat.
Asked about Gibsons organizing efforts for the far right, including a planned rally this Sunday which leftwing counter-protesters have vowed to oppose, Buchal said such actions were understandable.
I think that for a long time there has been a closing of the mind and a censoring to a point where now people feel justified in using force to prevent the expression of opinions with which they disagree, he said. I believe that the left the antifa [antifascist] crowd fired the first shot in that regard.
There is definitely something wrong if criminal gangs are essentially allowed to shut down normal and traditional activities of Republicans. With that climate arising, the question becomes: what do you do? A lot of the rank and file party members are old and frail people. They are intimidated by whats going on.
The video depicts Buchal making a fiery pro-Trump speech. He says of the president: His enemies are my enemies and his enemies are all our enemies.
Our enemies are more dangerous than ever, he continues. We are really in a life and death battle for the future of our society. And these globalist people are not going to give up.
If we dont tell out fellow citizens that there are these dark forces in the government, like the CIA and the shadow government, who are trying to take Trump down with lies, who is going to tell them?
Spencer Sunshine, an associate researcher at Political Research Associates who last year co-authored a major report on the growth of the far-right Patriot Movement in Oregon, said: The Oath Keepers have been acting as a de facto security team for white supremacists and neo-Nazis for the last month or two.