About 150 self-proclaimed black-clad anarchists – many of whom also wore helmets, balaclavas and body armor – gathered in a parking lot just east of downtown Portland on Wednesday afternoon for a daytime rally of the inauguration.
Their political views were difficult to pin down.
“We are ungovernable,” read a banner on the sidewalk.
Before the day was over, windows were smashed at the state’s Democratic Party headquarters and police in riot gear were chasing protesters in the dark.
Portland Police Sgt. Kevin Allen said police “quickly identified several suspects responsible for the damage and related criminal activity” and made several arrests.
The scene was reminiscent of a summer of turmoil here, where racial justice protests lingered for more than 100 days, with peaceful protests giving way to nightly battles between activists determined to destroy and authorities who declared riots and fired tear gas.
The protests had become less frequent recently, and it seemed possible that with President Trump’s departure, the movement could subside. But when organizers launched a social media appeal for Wednesday’s rally, familiar faces were visible in the crowd.
In the past, the police had often stayed behind until the crowd grew unruly. This time around ten police officers showed up on bicycles while the demonstrators were still gathering.
Teal Lindseth, a 22-year-old activist wearing a black protective vest, mask and orange ski cap, approached one of the officers.
“What are you doing here?” she screamed. “We have the right to come together.
A young man positioned himself a few inches from the officer’s face and cursed him several times before asking, “How long are you going to stay here?”
“Until my boss tells me to go,” replied the officer.
The crowd rushed towards the officers. The police backed up, then walked towards the crowd. An officer confiscated a pair of poles used to display a banner, apparently fearing they could be used as weapons.
The crowd erupted into a familiar chant: “All cops are bastards.”
The officers watched, impassive. Then, on an apparent order from a command post, they left.
The activists gathered, appearing not to know what to do next. In accordance with the anarchist code, which bans rulers, a young man speaking through a megaphone said he was not trying to tell anyone what to do, but advised that they start marching.
And so they did, sneaking through the streets behind a banner that said, “We don’t want Biden – we want revenge!” For police killings, imperialist wars and fascist massacres.
They also chanted “Black lives matter,” though some local leaders in the racial justice movement said they didn’t want anything to do with the violent protesters in Portland.
The crowd was followed by reporters, photographers and a police car which issued loudspeaker warnings:
“It’s the Portland Police Department!” No permits have been issued for roads in the region. Move to the sidewalk. Failure to do so may expose you to subpoena, arrest, or the use of crowd control officers and / or impact weapons.
Eventually, activists reached the Oregon Democratic Party office building.
They dragged a dumpster down the middle of the street. Then several held up umbrellas to cover up the identity of a man with spray paint who began writing anti-Biden slogans and drawing anarchist symbols on windows and walls.
Another man stepped forward and smashed windows with a crowbar while other protesters grabbed the blinds and pulled them down.
The cruiser stopped a block away and the loudspeaker officer told activists to stop damaging the building, threatening them with arrest. A truck carrying officers in riot gear approached and the activists started running.
Soon the street was empty, except for a passerby who pushed the dumpster to the curb.