In the wake of the shooting death over the weekend of a supporter of the far-right group Patriot Prayer in Portland, Oregon, the group’s founder, Joey Gibson, has made a round of appearances on right-wing media to present himself as simply a champion of free speech and constitutional rights. But at the same time, he has defended the suspect in another high-profile shooting case, which occurred several days before the Portland event.
Gibson also made appearances on some mainstream media outlets that whitewashed the group’s record of political violence.
The fatal shooting this weekend in Portland occurred shortly after a pro-Trump caravan traveling through the city confronted counterprotesters downtown. During the caravan, participants reportedly fired paintballs and pepper spray against counterdemonstrators. The specific events of the shooting afterward are still unclear, though the Oregonian newspaper has identified a man who is now under investigation for the shooting.
Patriot Prayer’s typical playbook, as the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented, is to “assemble a ready-to-rumble crew with out-of-town violent extremists, then troll through the urban center in hopes of confronting left-wing protesters, ensuring violence eventually will break out.” Patriot Prayer has repeatedly organized public events in Portland with the Proud Boys, a group described by its founder Gavin McInnes as “foot soldiers” for the right. At a protest in 2018, Patriot Prayer members were found with a “cache of firearms” on the roof of a nearby parking garage.
Patriot Prayer’s Facebook page has also been a center of hate speech, including at least one violent threat against a Muslim group. In January 2019, Patriot Prayer gathered outside the Portland offices of the far-left Industrial Workers of the World labor union, with participants yelling such messages as, “Get them dirty Muslims out of our country.” Another attendee told a counterdemonstrator, “We’re gonna hurt you.”
Gibson also faces rioting charges as well as a civil lawsuit stemming from a May 2019 incident in which he and others allegedly planned a confrontation at a local bar, called Cider Riot, where left-wing activists were holding a May Day celebration.
During an interview Monday with KATU, the Sinclair Broadcasting-owned TV station in Portland. Despite the group’s well-known history of violence and political confrontation in Portland, none of this was mentioned in the KATU segment’s sympathetic interactions.
Instead, Gibson declared that he wanted to see freedom of speech and the rule of law protected. “Do what every other city does in the United States of America that doesn’t have this issue — just arrest people who break the law,” he said. “I want everyone to have a right to the First Amendment. Vancouver, Washington, is about 15 minutes away from downtown Portland. We don’t have this issue, because we arrest people.”
On an appearance with far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, however, Gibson also denounced the murder charges filed in Wisconsin against a 17-year-old shooting suspect who had traveled to Kenosha from his home in northern Illinois and is accused of killing two people and wounding another during the ongoing protests there. The suspect reportedly self-identified as a militia member and had discussed “running into harm’s way” with his rifle. (The suspect has since become a cause célèbre on Fox News and other right-wing media.)
“What they’re doing is they’re passing gun control without going through legislation, right?” Gibson said of the murder charges. “They’re making it so that patriots, or anybody, should be scared — or if you’re a patriot, to be scared to use your gun. So it’s self-imposed gun control.”
Jones then blamed “Soros-controlled” district attorneys, referring to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about supposed political control by philanthropist George Soros, and claimed that Soros was funding civil unrest.
Then during an interview with right-wing talk radio host Lars Larson in Portland, Larson and Gibson alleged that the suspect in the Portland shooting had been looking for an opportunity to shoot somebody, and Gibson claimed there was a double standard being applied when it came to shootings against conservatives.
“I mean, imagine if this guy’s wearing a MAGA hat and he killed someone?” said Gibson. “Like — why is it that we find this acceptable in these far-left cities? Why is it that liberals don’t speak out against this? And the thing that they go to is dehumanizing us — dehumanizing Christians and conservatives, so that people don’t feel guilty about assaulting us, about hurting us, about murdering us.”
Gibson also appeared late Monday on Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream. Guest anchor Mike Emanuel questioned Gibson about a Slate article that explored how Patriot Prayer publicly rejects white supremacy but has attracted white supremacist associations and support. Gibson insisted that his group was not in any way white supremacist or infiltrated by white supremacists.
As with other major media outlets, Emanuel did not ask any further questions about Gibson and Patriot Prayer’s legal issues and controversial past incidents.
Correction (9/3/20): An earlier version of this article referred to a 2018 news report that the FBI had described the Proud Boys as an “extremist group.” The FBI clarified later in 2018 that it did not apply that label to the Proud Boys organization, but that their “investigations focus solely on criminal activity of individuals — regardless of group membership.”