While far-right activist Joey Gibson promised that his group Patriot Prayer was going to take back Longview, Washington, on June 9, less than two dozen people arrived for his “blue line” march in memory of Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Deputy Justin DeRosier who was shot and killed on a call on April 13. Gibson has been known for exploiting regional stories like these as an avenue to gain publicity and insert his organization’s relevance into a community, and he has never shied away from jumping on these incidents when a community is still in mourning. In a mostly silent two-mile hike, they waved American and “blue line” flags as cars drove by and largely ignored their presence.
While Gibson has presented himself as simply an engaged conservative, anti-fascist organizers have said since the beginning that Patriot Prayer has been a mainstreaming tool for white nationalists and has become known for violent harassment.
Yet Gibson’s political roadshow, meant to draw out “patriots” in liberal cities around the country, progressively lost steam this spring. While he was once able to draw out hundreds (which were still overwhelmed by thousands of counter-protesters), Patriot Prayer’s attraction has waned after dozens of public fights, the arrest of prominent members, and the increasingly violent attacks on the left and members of the community.
Patriot Prayer’s marked decline was not an accident, or the result of simple ineptitude. It comes after more than two years of coordinated organizing by anti-fascist organizations across Oregon and Washington.
Founded by Gibson in 2016, Patriot Prayer brought together a grab bag of right-wing activists to hold public rallies centered on fundamentalist Christianity, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and social conservativism, and attracted open neo-Nazis and white nationalists. Patriot Prayer has been described by political analyst Spencer Sunshine as an example of ‘Independent Trumpism,’ far-right grassroots activism inspired by Donald Trump’s nativistic bravado.
In May of 2017, Patriot Prayer attendee Jeremy Christian murdered two people on a Portland train in a knife attack as he railed against two women of color. This further motivated a string of community organizations to counter them by holding community education events, organizing massive counter-demonstrations, and revealing information about the far-right provocateurs in an effort to limit their capacity for violence.
The Proud Boys, a far-right gang started by Vice co-founder Gavin McInnis, provided Patriot Prayer’s muscle and were known for brutal street attacks against leftists and anyone they deemed a threat. They quickly took on the role that neo-Nazi groups like Volksfront and the Hammerskins once did as reactionary street enforcers. The Proud Boys have taken major legal hits recently, including Gavin McInnis quitting, leadership malfunctions, and close to a dozen members being arrested for assaults in front of a New York City Republican event last year. The Proud Boys who have shown up in Oregon — many of them bussed in from Washington, since few members actually live in the state — have also started to see legal repercussions for street assaults, including Tusitala “Tiny” Toese and Donovon Flippo being charged with felony assault for attacking a person on the street.
A Community Response
As Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys became ubiquitous in Portland and up and down the West Coast, they were confronted head on with an anti-fascist movement that had grown, but was hardly new. Rose City Antifa was the first U.S.-based organization to use the term “Antifa” and was formed in 2007 to confront the neo-Nazi gang, Volksfront. Their tactical set came together in those early campaigns to confront violent Nazi street formations, including outing Nazis, pressuring employers and property management companies to cut ties, and disrupting the activities of these fascist organizations. When Patriot Prayer created a “big tent” for far-right people, including members of white nationalist organizations like Identity Evropa and the Traditionalist Workers Party, Rose City Antifa began counter-organizing, and Patriot Prayer escalated its war against immigrants, queer people and the left.
“Patriot Prayer has a long track record of bringing fascists and white supremacists into Portland, and encouraging the sort of violence and persecution that is a hallmark of these political ideologies,” David Rose (a pseudonym) of Rose City Antifa told Truthout. “Patriot Prayer has proved itself to be a threat to the community, and as anti-fascists have learned from experience, the only way to combat that threat successfully is to directly and actively oppose them.”
That opposition has swelled as accounts of Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer member violence pile up, and people from around Oregon have decided to come out in droves to support counterprotest actions. The anti-fascist crowd often overwhelms the much smaller Patriot Prayer events, creating a strong counter-narrative and disallowing them a platform to recruit, organize and grow.
“The far-right faction of ‘Patriot Prayer’ has declined due to the outstanding anti-fascist counter-organizing in Portland. People denied Joey Gibson, the Proud Boys and the white nationalists the streets time and time again,” a member of Eugene Antifa, a local anti-fascist organization, told Truthout. They asked to remain anonymous because of threats of white nationalist violence. “Even as they were coddled by the local government and able to conspire with a sympathetic police force, the community emerged victorious.”
The Eugene Antifa member explained that anti-fascists have been monitoring and organizing against Patriot Prayer since it began, noting the far-right group’s clear focus on targeting leftist activists.
“Since the beginning of Joey Gibson’s Patriot Prayer activity, anti-fascists have constantly monitored, exposed and organized to counter this group,” they said. “The true colors of Joey Gibson’s “movement” have bled through as they teeter further into decline. Joey Gibson’s Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys events are explicitly about attacking leftists…. The May 1 attack on the anti-fascist event at Cider Riot! is testament to this “new” phase of the far-right in Portland.”
This attack happened on the evening of “May Day” where activists convened for drinks at the local bar Cider Riot! Gibson and his entourage showed up live-streaming and antagonizing the crowd, and a woman was allegedly hit with a metal baton by a member of Gibson’s group and reportedly suffered a vertebrae fracture. Patriot Prayer entered Cider Riot! without obvious provocation, and their attack has been interpreted by the community as, more than anything, a desperate act of erratic violence.
Cider Riot!, which has been targeted by vandalism before for its support of antiracist social movements, filed a $1 million lawsuit against Gibson over the violence. A local activist, Luis Marquez, filed his own lawsuit for $161,000 against Gibson on May 31 for what he says has been harassment and unfounded slanderous claims. Marquez has been active in protests to oppose Patriot Prayer going back more than two years, and Gibson has singled him out in particular, including online campaigns of misinformation about him.
“He can’t tell lies and get away with it — I’m tired of living in fear due to his lies to silence me,” Marquez told Truthout. “I hope he learns a lesson that you cannot fabricate lies because people oppose you — that you have a responsibility for the words you speak.”
Their Decline Came From Opposition
Patriot Prayer has been increasingly hindered in its attempts to spread lies and violence in Portland. That’s because of intentional organizations that worked with the larger community to employ strategies of opposition to stop them from taking free reign of the city and exacting even further campaigns of violence.
“I think the larger Portland community is sick of them and rejects them,” said Rudie Desmond, a member of RASH Northwest. RASH stands for Red and Anarchist Skinheads, a group of “traditional” skinheads that have a left-wing political orientation. The skinhead movement emerged in London in the 1960s out of a multiracial working-class community, largely among dock workers, and centered on Reggae, Dancehall and Ska music. It wasn’t until later, in the 1970s and 1980s, that the phenomenon of neo-Nazi skinheads took shape, when the fascist National Front party in Britain began recruiting white working-class skinheads to their ranks. Today, some of the largest fronts organizing against far-right organizations still come from the antiracist skinhead scene, which is often bound together by multiracial community building and music.
For RASH, counter-organizing means focusing on revealing information about Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys members, creating opposition from large community coalitions when they show up in public, and ensuring that the violence they are bringing into Portland neighborhoods is fully visible.
“The most effective strategies are ones where, at the end of it, you’ve not just made a statement but come together as a body,” said Portland-based anti-fascist researcher Alexander Reid Ross. “Opposition to the far-right is usually organized chaos, people from all sorts of walks of life joining together to promote equality and inclusion against oppression. It can be concerts, speak outs, festive counter-demonstrations, or whatever.”
The focus on Patriot Prayer across Oregon has come because of the penchant for violence that their members bring, and how they could grow and become even more threatening if counter-organizing was not there to stop it.
“Patriot Prayer poses a threat to the safety of community members in any city they visit, particularly people of color, LGBTQ people, women, and those they view as their political opponents,” says Lindsay Schubiner from the Western States Center.
The Western States Center, a progressive nonprofit that was established in 1987 to cover the Pacific and Rocky Mountain states, has been active in opposition, supporting counter-events to Patriot Prayer since 2017.
“If we want to live in a free, inclusive and democratic society, we have to speak out and we have to organize. This organizing looks different in different places; we’ve worked with a wide variety of community members across the country, from clergy to bar owners to tenant organizers and feminist activists,” Schubiner said. “Many people in urban and rural areas already see the adverse effects groups like Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys are having on their communities and have been speaking out. By organizing, they’re keeping their neighbors informed, building new relationships, and strengthening their own visions for a free and just society.”
The Community Keeps Standing Up
Despite Gibson’s slip further into obscurity, organizers in the area do not see this as a moment to back away. Antifascism was never just about the immediate threat, but building a conscious and connected community to undermine white supremacy.
“Strong community resistance has played a major role in breaking fascist movements of the past and the present. Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys are about intimidation. It is important to remember that the far-right wants to be unopposed,” said a member of Eugene Antifa.
Far-right groups’ moments of decline have not meant they have disappeared, as the recent May Day altercation shows. Sometimes, fascist groups will actually start to escalate their violence as they become increasingly desperate and unable to find shelter in the community they terrorized. This is why anti-fascist organizations remain vigilant and continue to build a base in communities and counter-organize the far-right; that extends to Patriot Prayer, which anti-fascist organizations point out is continuing its campaign of violence despite its decline.
The bonds formed through counter-organizing are antithetical to fascist violence. These take shape through educational programs, community support systems, and new organizations and community centers that develop in opposition.
“These actions help restore people’s confidence in one another and build the kind of social fabric that makes free expression, which is already a principle we are all invested in, more tenable in everyday life,” says Reid Ross.
The anti-fascist organizations and activists that prompted Joey Gibson’s decline will be instrumental in confronting the underlying conditions that make fascism possible. The key is community: drawing together to support each other and work against oppression in a broader sense. This emphasis on community-building and broad-based organizing runs counter to the caricatures that are often used to portray anti-fascist activists in the media, and those that built Gibson’s brand.
“The point isn’t to know what’s coming before it happens, but to try to be ready and to try and build the capacity to adapt — and help transform conditions toward social justice by addressing root causes, and not just the symptoms,” said Reid Ross.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that David Rose is a pseudonym.