Portland rallies send mixed messages

Tensions rise at Portland protests
Tensions rise at Portland protests

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Tensions rise at Portland protests 02:21

Story highlights

  • Some counterprotesters believed the Trump rally had racist overtones
  • Organizer says rally designed to take a stand for Trump and free speech in liberal city

(CNN)A "Trump Free Speech" rally became the scene of competing protests Sunday in Portland, Oregon, with placards giving voice to an eclectic mix of viewpoints.

Hundreds of supporters of President Donald Trump converged on Terry D. Schrunk Plaza for the rally, but they were slightly outnumbered by counterprotesters across the street.
Some of those protesting viewed the free speech rally as an implicit endorsement of racism given its close timing to a racially charged stabbing last month.
    Ricky Best, 53, and Taliesin Namkai-Meche, 23, were fatally stabbed May 26 as they tried to defend two Muslim teenagers from what police described as a barrage of hate speech.
    Suspect Jeremy Joseph Christian raised the free speech issue in his arraignment last week.
    "Get out if you don't like free speech!" he shouted as he entered the courtroom Tuesday. "You call it terrorism; I call it patriotism. Die."
    Signs of animosity among the groups holding rallies began to emerge last week in online forums. The tensions put police on high alert and prompted Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler to call on the federal government to revoke the event organized by a group called Patriot Prayer.
    Federal officials declined the request, saying there was no legal basis to revoke the permit.
    Protest organizer Joey Gibson told CNN the event was planned before the stabbings and that Patriot Prayer had nothing to with Christian, the suspect. It was, he said, about taking a stand for Trump and free speech in a liberal part of the country.
    Wearing a "Police Lives Matter" T-shirt Sunday, demonstrator Debbie Sluder said she wanted to "reverse the lies" surrounding Trump supporters. "Just because we voted for Trump doesn't equal hate speech," Sluder said.
    Counterdemonstrators chanted expletive-ridden slogans denouncing Trump. They carried signs proclaiming "Supporters of Trump are traitors to America" and "Freedom ends where harm begins."
    Self-described anti-fascists have become a recurring presence at events testing the limits of free speech. They were blamed for riots that led to the cancellation of conservative firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos' scheduled talk at the University of California, Berkeley, and have shown up at events featuring Ann Coulter.
    "We hope and pray that both sides try to keep in mind that in the big picture it might be easy to forget with all the emotions running high that we all have the same basic needs," Portlander Margie Fletcher told CNN before Sunday's rallies.
    Fletcher's son, Micah, was wounded during the commuter train attack as he and the others tried to intervene in what Portland police called "hate speech toward a variety of ethnicities and religions" directed at two young women.
    The groups at Sunday's rallies were separated by a wall of officers, heavily armed and wearing protective body armor, from local and federal police agencies.
    On each side Sunday, protesters carried signs reflecting a variety of causes.
    Not all the placards were easy to link to the theme of the original rally.