In Portland, A Roving Right-Wing Gang "Demasks" Left-Wing Activists
For the past two years, the city of Portland, Oregon has been terrorized by a series of increasingly violent clashes between Patriot Prayer, a right wing protest group, and several antifascist groups. The most vicious of these conflicts occurred on June 30, 2018; what started as a Patriot Prayer rally descended into a riot. Five people were hospitalized, one with serious injuries.
Antifascists contend that Patriot Prayer, while not a fascist group, helps “normalize” fascist street violence in their community. They point to the fatal stabbings of two people on a Portland MAX train by former Patriot Prayer marcher Jeremy Christian as one example of this. They also note that most of the male members of Patriot Prayer are also members of the Proud Boys, an SPLC designated hate group.
Antifascists point out that, while not openly fascist themselves, Patriot Prayer has marched with out-right fascist groups, including Identity Evropa. Neo-Nazi YouTuber Baked Alaska has given speeches at several Patriot Prayer events.
For their part, Joey Gibson and Patriot Prayer claim that the antifascists are the violent ones. They accuse “Antifa”, as they are frequently called, of scaring conservatives and liberals alike out of exercising their free speech. Joey bills Patriot Prayer as standing against hate and in favor of open dialogue. To this end on Thursday, January 17, 2019, Patriot Prayer convened a flash mob outside of a Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) meeting in downtown Portland. They were refused entry by the DSA.
After this gathering, several Patriot Prayer members claim they were assaulted in the streets by a gang of antifascists. Two Patriot Prayer members were hospitalized with minor injuries. Joey Gibson used this event as the justification for several weeks’ worth of flash mobs, each aimed at “demasking” members of antifa. Why Joey Gibson invented the term “demasking,” rather than using the word “unmasking,” is unclear. Many of these so-called demaskings have been violent. The repeated clashes have led to threats of deadly force against antifascist activists.
In this article, I will examine the claims made by Joey Gibson and other Patriot Prayer members about the night of January 17, the alleged assault of their members, and this demasking campaign. My sources are hours of videos taken by both antifascist activists and members of Patriot Prayer and allied groups.
The Inciting Incident
On Thursday, January 17, Patriot Prayer members assembled at the Portland Industrial Workers of the World Union Labor Hall. That night, the hall was host to a meeting of the DSA. Video taken that night by Robert West, a Patriot Prayer sympathizer, gives us a good look at the tenor of the encounter.
It seems to start relatively peacefully. The DSA members will not allow Patriot Prayer inside their meeting space, but several of them go out and engage in polite conversation. We hear one of them converse with Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, Joey Gibson’s (former) second in command and a notorious street brawler with several arrests and charges for assault. The conversation is polite and pleasant; both men agree that police sometimes use heavy-handed tactics on people of color.
Tiny states his belief that he has been arrested at several rallies because the police wanted to be seen hauling in a “brown coconut” “just to look good” to the media. This leads to a conversation about institutional racism, which is contentious but polite.
Eventually that conversation dies down, and things grow markedly less pleasant outside the meeting. Patriot Prayer members can be heard mocking the IWW as a “communist organization” and doubting whether or not any members of the organization are really workers.
Haley Adams, a white nationalist activist who regularly marches with Patriot Prayer, expresses frustration at not being let into the meeting. She claims her purpose is to “ask questions.” Eventually the group (it’s impossible to say who initiates it) attempts to go around the back of the IWW hall, a private residence they have been barred from, and enter through the back door.
They are met by several DSA members who again turn them away. The video ends as the “flash mob” appears to be petering out.
The next video we have is from a short while later that night. It was also shot by Robert West. It takes place on the opposite side of the street from the IWW house and shows the immediate aftermath of a fight between “Tiny” Toese, four other Patriot Prayer members, and a group of antifascists.
As the video starts we see West approach the scene. He claims the attack was carried out by people “in that house” (the DSA house), but he admits that he did not actually see the altercation. There does not appear to be any video of the actual fight itself, so we will have to determine what we can from footage of the aftermath.
As Robert approaches, Tiny is speaking to the police while Reggie Axtell, another Patriot Prayer member and Proud Boy, lies on the ground in apparent agony. Tiny will later claim several of Reggie’s ribs were broken:
In his report to the police, Tiny claims the antifascists who attacked him and his friends numbered between 15 and 20. He repeatedly claims to have knocked “a few” people out, and states that the fight started when he and several other Patriot Prayer members were driving away from the DSA meeting in two cars. He says that an antifascist threw a rock, which hit Haley Adams’s car. This prompted Tiny and four comrades to exit their vehicle and approach the antifascists. Tiny claims that he and his “brothers” fought back after the antifascists attacked.
After giving their statements, an ambulance arrives and takes both Reggie Axtell and James Edward Johnson to a hospital. Johnson apparently suffered minor head injuries. He is not in obvious discomfort in this video, but the poor lighting also makes it difficult to see any injury:
In a second video, shot by Robert West after the police have finished taking his statement, Toese films himself describing the fight for a Facebook video.
He seems to have decided that video was not up to his standards, because he re-recorded it later at his home. The main difference between the two videos is that, in the second one, Tiny is shirtless.
The Plot Thickens
Tiny Toese, James Johnson, and Reggie Axtell all filmed videos after the altercation. James was actually filmed in the hospital. The video was posted to Patriot Prayer’s Facebook page at 11:08 PM on January 17. He is identified in the title as simply a “black man”.
In this video, James claims that the antifascists threw a rock at the car he and Tiny were riding in, not Haley’s car. His version is otherwise consistent with the story Tiny told the police. Midway through the video, we get a closer look at James’s injuries, which he claims were inflicted by a baton:
In Tiny’s shirtless recitation of the story, the number of antifascists has evolved from “15-20” to “17.” Tiny claims that he “knocked out” four of their attackers while Reggie knocked out three. Tiny is boisterous and extremely excited in this video, cheering the fight as a major victory and saying:
“Well that’s a message to you all, we don’t run. We don’t run. We stand. I have that tattoo for a reason. Because Proud Boys don’t run. We stand.”
At 7:10 into the video, Tiny reveals that Jason pulled out a firearm during the fight, addressing the antifascists who attacked them and saying, “Now y’all lucky that I told my boy Jason to put his piece in his pocket. But when he pulled that bitch out y’all ran like little girls. Y’all lucky.”
It’s possible that James possessed a concealed handgun license and was carrying the weapon legally. The firearm is not mentioned to the police, at least not during any of the conversation that was recorded.
On January 21, Reggie Axtell posted a video to Facebook Live as well. He gives a somewhat different version of events. The full video has been deleted, but this excerpt was preserved by antifascist researchers (I watched a full archived copy of the video for the purpose of this report):
Reggie repeats the claim that a rock was thrown at one of their cars, and when they got out to confront the thrower they were rushed by twenty anti-fascists. Reggie does not credit them with throwing the first punch. Here is how he describes the beginning of the fight:
“So this guy, he stands up in front of Tiny and he wants to fight Tiny, so Tiny’s like, well let’s go. And I step to the right of Tiny and there’s a guy coming at me smiling. I said, OK well you want something to smile about? And I put my knuckles in his face.”
Patriot Prayer’s First Demasking Spree
On January 19, 2019, Patriot Prayer again assembled in front of the I.W.W. Union Hall in Downtown Portland. Joey Gibson led this rally in person, and it was filmed by Robert West. The video opens with Haley Adams running up the stairs, attempting to enter the building through an open front door. She is denied entry. Patriot Prayer assembles outside and its members begin to heckle the people inside. Joey tells them, “The guy that you guys attacked is coming here soon so you can apologize to them.”
Haley points to a Black Lives Matter sign on the front window and shouts, “Look, they have Black Lives Matter! They have Black Lives Matter here as they mob and attack the guy.”
By this point the story has evolved yet again. Joey now alleges that the DSA coordinated with the people who fought Tiny and his crew. About two minutes into the video, James arrives and recites his version of the story again while Joey records. He restates that there were 15-20 antifascists.
After about seven minutes of picketing the I.W.W. building, Joey gets on a bullhorn and starts shouting at the people inside. During the rant he accuses them of bringing “40 antifa” to attack his men. James poses in front of the building. During Joey’s bullhorn tirade James is referred to as “a black man” rather than by his name:
No one inside the Union Hall opted to engage Patriot Prayer. However, during that protest an activist livestreamer who uses the handle @DemandUtopia approached from the opposite street. He began to heckle Patriot Prayer, accusing them of having come to “terrorize the streets of Portland once again.” He calls them “terrorists” (his footage can be found here).
Haley Adams responds, via bullhorn, that, “The guys with the masks on are the ones that beat a black man and put him in the hospital.” The exchange continues in this fashion for a little while, until @DemandUtopia begins a conversation with a bystander on the street. He stops addressing Patriot Prayer. At 3:51 seconds after his arrival on-scene, Joey Gibson leads a large group across the street to confront DemandUtopia:
This altercation was actually filmed from both sides. Robert West’s footage, filmed inside Patriot Prayer’s ranks, begins before DemandUtopia arrives on scene. We hear several members point out a group of people, some of whom are masked, on the opposite side of the street. They theorize one of them is on his cellphone to rally other antifascists to come and confront them.
We aren’t privy to anything Joey might have said before crossing the street with his men. Robert West gets engaged in a conversation with a left-wing activist. Both of them express shock that Patriot Prayer has just charged across the street. West says, “Uh oh”:
Neither video shows any direct act of provocation by the people on the other side of the street, who appear vastly outnumbered by Patriot Prayer. Joey marches up to DemandUtopia’s face and loudly repeats the question; “You think it’s OK to assault black people? Huh? You think that’s OK?” DemandUtopia is surrounded and shoved. His footage becomes unclear and chaotic, but West’s footage shows him being attacked and manhandled until he is pulled into a local business by a bystander.
Joey and his people eventually leave the I.W.W. Hall and travel to the Oregon Right to Life march, which began at the nearby Pioneer Courthouse Square. Several groups of counter-protesters had gathered in opposition to the march. Joey Gibson makes these activists the targets of his first demasking campaign.
This video, shot and edited by Daniel V. Media, shows several confrontations. In one, Joey and Patriot Prayer surround and demask a middle-aged man and accuse him of having “beat up a black man, put him in a hospital,” as well as of breaking Reggie’s ribs. Joey calls Reggie by his name. This counter-protester expresses confusion and claims to have no knowledge of the fight. Joey yells at him to “shut your mouth” and then threatens:
“From now on anyone with a mask on is part of them.”
There are numerous videos of Gibson and Patriot Prayer accosting counter-protesters who are either alone, or in small groups, and berating them. At 2:09 in the Daniel V. Media video, we see him approach a group of young women, only one of whom is masked.
He shouts at them, “Is that your thing now, huh? You guys are OK with that? 30 of you, taking five people? Is that what you’re into now? Huh? Bullshit. Those are your people. You wear the mask you’re one of them.”
Patriot Prayer members quickly surround the women. One young man, ironically wearing a mask himself, pulls out a can of bear mace and threatens them with it.
At 3:50 Patriot Prayer approaches a roughly equivalent sized group of antifascists. They push their way through the group. The antifascists do not fight back, save for one shoving match wherein the same masked Patriot Prayer member threatens a second person.
Once they pass through, the Patriot Prayer marchers stop, turn around and continue demanding the antifascists remove their masks. Most of the group backs away, but one young man lingers behind, yelling at several antifascists. He fixates on one older man and tells him,
“Fuck you too. Are you union? Are you union, bitch? I kick teamsters’ fucking teeth out. I kick teamster teeth out, fucking bitch.”
At 5:10, he tells another antifascist, “I’ll bust your fucking teeth out faggot.”
This same Patriot Prayer marcher appeared in another video, from a different point in the march, apparently threatening counter-protesters with a firearm. The video was deleted before it could be archived, but I did take several screengrabs that show him holding a hand in his pocket, and then mock shooting at the person taping him:
The most significant act of violence on January 19 appears to be an assault by Haley Adams against a counter-protester. This Daniel V. Media video does an excellent job of breaking it down from several angles. We see her approach an unmasked woman, stun gun in hand. Twitter user @portlandresists took the best photograph of that:
And then, on the video, we see her jam her stun gun into this woman’s neck.
The stun gun does not activate. This was not intentional; Haley intended to fire the stun gun. She was simply unable to work it properly. We know this because there is a clip from yet another Patriot Prayer livestream where we hear Haley complain that “it doesn’t fucking work.” One of her partners succeeds in figuring out how to activate the stun gun and hands it back to her.
The Situation Escalates Further
On January 21, 2019, Reggie Axtell posted a video where he threatens Portland mayor Ted Wheeler.
“I promise you this. Ted Wheeler, you and all your little masked thugs running around beating people up in the streets of Portland, your days are fucking numbered. You hear me? Your days are fucking numbered. Because I promise you this, Ted Wheeler, I’m coming for you you little punk. And all your little Antifa bastards, I’m coming for you fuckers too.”
That same day, Joey Gibson posted a video challenging his fans and followers around the country to demask as many antifascists as possible.
On Wednesday, January 23, the I.W.W. Union Hall and a bar frequented by anarchists were both vandalized. The I.W.W. house had the words “antifa house” and “smash communism” spray-painted on it. Windows were broken.
For reasons known only to Joey, he responded to this by holding yet another flash mob outside of the I.W.W. hall the night after it was attacked. The video of this is truly surreal. For one thing, it was uploaded by Haley Adams and branded as a “Crusade Media” production. Here’s the YouTube description she wrote:
“Joey Gibson along with members of Patriot Prayer meet Haley Adams in front of the freshly vandalized IWW/DSA/Antifa building on Burnside in Portland, and issue a statement they were not involved. It is believed Antifa staged a vandalism false flag on their own building in order to blame local conservatives, as well as rally support and fundraising to their cause. At the time of posting this, they have already raised $3600.00.”
Joey denies any Patriot Prayer involvement in the crime and accuses “antifa” of trying to start “some sort of war”. Haley Adams refers to the hall as “antifa house”, which is exactly what vandals spraypainted on the side of the building.
Joey goes on to address “socialists” and threaten, “We’re going to go to every single event, we’re going to go every single one of your houses, not your private houses, but every single organization that you guys have, everything that is established, every single bar, everybody that has an attachment to antifa, you’re going to see us and we’re going to keep going until you disavow Antifa and you separate yourselves.”
He issues a challenge to his viewers:
“You see a mask, you pull a mask. Boop! Get the picture. Alright, we’re gonna see, it’s like a trophy. We’re gonna see who has the most.”
Gibson notes that the DSA has cancelled its meeting for the night. He says that he holds the DSA members “just as responsible” for beating up Reggie and James as the people who actually fought with them.
“We are going to keep going to your meetings,” he promises, “We’re going to keep going until you let us in, you let us have a conversation…”
Also on the 24th, Patriot Prayer member Skylor Jernigan posted a threatening Facebook Live video (since removed, clips of it remain). Jernigan was present for most of the rallies covered in this article. He tells Antifa he is “fucking tired of it” and claiming that “our men were beat for no reason”. He threatens that antifascists will “get knives put into your throats, get bullets put into your heads. If you don’t stop this shit with us”:
On January 27, Jernigan was filmed with several other Patriot Prayer members, attempting to demask antifascists. At one point they chase after several people. Jernigan and another man can both be seen wearing knives:
Open-carry of such belt knives is perfectly legal in Oregon, but antifascist activists online have expressed deep concern, based on the city’s recent history. In 2017 Jeremy Christian, a former member of Patriot Prayer, began harassing two young Muslim teenagers on a Portland MAX train. Three passengers confronted him and demanded he stop. Christian stabbed two of them to death, and critically wounded a third. When the police arrested him he told them, “That’s what liberalism gets you.”
January 27 was the day of a peaceful protest against Portland’s ICE offices. The protest had a superhero theme, and so many people were masked and costumed. Video of the event shows a calm, friendly gathering. A costumed marching band plays a jaunty tune as people converse. The band gradually starts marching off, followed by a trail of activists. We see Joey Gibson and several Patriot Prayer members zero in on a very young man in a white mask:
This young man was not the only masked person at the rally, but he did wind up near the back of the line. This made him vulnerable. While Gibson approached from the front, his followers circled and closed in, surrounding their quarry:
One of Joey’s men grabbed the young man in a bear hug, holding him in place while Joey Gibson removed his mask:
To all signs this demasking campaign will continue for the foreseeable future. There have been signs already that it may have a chilling effect on free speech within the city. On January 25, Portland Community College received several threats that an on-campus event held by the DSA would be disrupted. The school canceled the event, and Portland DSA Chairwoman Olivia Katbi Smith alleges the threats were made by members of Patriot Prayer.
On social media, some Portland locals have posited dark theories about where this situation may lead:
For his part, Joey Gibson posted another video on January 28. He described demasking as “simple and effective”, and promised that the attacks will continue for the foreseeable future: “Whenever there’s any sort of event in Portland I will be down there.”
Patriot Prayer and the Portland Proud Boys now seem to have entered into a conflict of their own. Tusitala Toese and several other individuals who were members of the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer have resigned their membership in Patriot Prayer.
It’s unclear how this will impact the activities of both groups in Portland going forward. All involved parties seem committed to continuing the aggressive street actions of the last several weeks.
Special thanks to Twitter user @Kherman112 for assistance tracking down the original versions of several of these videos.