Alt-right protest organizer: 'Mayor will not convince me to cancel the rally'
PORTLAND, Ore. (KATU) — An organizer of a rally this weekend in Portland defiantly rejected Mayor Ted Wheeler’s call for the federal government to pull his group’s permit, citing his right to free speech and suggesting that if the event is not permitted it could get out of control.
"Trump Free Speech Rally Portland" is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Sunday at federally controlled Terry Schrunk Plaza in downtown Portland.
Joey Gibson, a Vancouver resident and video blogger, is organizing the plaza rally and one called #MarchAgainstSharia on Saturday, June 10. He has invited Kyle Chapman, an online celebrity known as "Based Stickman," to the June 4 rally. Chapman was arrested at a Berkeley, California rally earlier this year on charges of suspected felony assault when he allegedly hit a left-wing protester in the head with a signpost.
"My concern is they're coming here to peddle a message of hatred and bigotry," Wheeler said in a news conference Monday. "They have a 1st Amendment right to speak, but hate speech is not protected."
The mayor’s call came Monday after police said 35-year-old Jeremy Christian stabbed three people on the MAX last Friday, killing two and seriously injuring the third. Witnesses said Christian verbally harassed two young women with an anti-Muslim rant. The three men who were attacked tried to come to the women’s defense and de-escalate the situation.
In a video posted Monday on the Facebook page, “Patriot Prayer,” Gibson said his group has nothing to do with Christian. He rejected Wheeler’s call for him to cancel the rally and said the mayor was attacking his group’s 1st Amendment right to free speech.
“Mayor Wheeler will not convince me to cancel the rally. I will not do that for several reasons,” he said. “One reason is that if I cancel this rally and if we don’t have a permit, you’re talking about hundreds of people just showing up in the park with no leadership, no voice of reason, nothing.”
He added that if he canceled the event, his group would not be able to control who comes in and out of the park.
“If they pull our permits, we cannot kick out the white supremacists, we cannot kick out the Nazis,” he said.
“Our speakers aren’t going to be filled with any hate,” Gibson said. “I have nothing to do with Jeremy Christian, and I will not stand down. I will make sure that I get up there, and I will make sure that I speak and say my piece. Because the things that I say, the things that I preach goes against everything that Jeremy Christian would have said.”
After Wheeler made his announcement, the ACLU of Oregon came to the group’s defense in a series of tweets.
“It may be tempting to shut down speech we disagree with, but once we allow the government to decide what we can say, see or hear, or who we can gather with, history shows us that the most marginalized will be disproportionately censored and punished for unpopular speech,” the organization said as part of its tweets.
Wheeler said he has asked the city of Portland not to issue any permits for the alt-right protests on June 4 or June 10. But the June 4 rally is being held at Schrunk Plaza, which the federal government controls.
"Our city is in mourning, our community’s anger is real, and the timing and subject of these events can only exacerbate an already difficult situation," Wheeler said.
A professor of constitutional law at Lewis and Clark Law School said hate speech is considered free speech, and is protected under the 1st Amendment, as long as it does not incite violence.
"If the government were to try and shut down the event or revoke permits for the event based on the content of the speech, that would very clearly be unconstitutional under the Supreme Court," James Oleske said.
The events on Friday are fresh in many people's minds, including members of the Muslim community like Harris Zafar. He told KATU he agreed with Wheeler's appeal to organizers.
"There is the freedom of speech, the freedom of assembly, yet we know through experience what some of these assemblies are leading to, and they're not productive in nature," Zafar said.