Local conservatives made good on their promise Saturday, Aug. 10, to bring a contentious rally to downtown Eugene despite strong push-back and concerns the rally could turn violent. It appears the one person arrested may have been a rally supporter pretending to be Antifa.
The so-called “God, Guns and Liberty” rally (formerly “God, Guns and Trump”) drew approximately 50 to 60 right-wing supporters while also bringing out around 250 to 300 counter-protesters and many more spectators from Saturday Market. Many rally-goers came armed, with some carrying AR-15 style assault rifles and wearing tactical gear.
The day started like any other summer Saturday in Eugene, with Saturday Market and Farmers Market attendees going about their business. Counter-protesters began assembling shortly before noon and by 1 pm God, Guns and Liberty rally-goers were on-scene.
Before long, tensions flared. One of the day’s early scuffles occurred as rally-goers entered the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza. Other minor scuffles broke out throughout the day, most of which the Eugene Police Department (EPD) did not respond to. Capt. Erik Klinko said at a later press conference that no one came forward at the time claiming to be the victim of an assault, though that could change later.
EPD had a contingent of riot police on hand inside the Lane County building, but those officers were never called upon. According to an EPD press release, Springfield police and Lane County Sheriff’s officers were also on hand to ensure EPD could police the rally and nearby events.
The rally was originally planned to take place for two hours in the plaza, but after less than 15 minutes, the groups moved out to 8th Avenue. EPD responded by closing off 8th between Pearl Street and Oak Street. During the rest of the event, rally-goers were mostly hemmed-in on the sidewalk just outside the plaza, with counter-protesters chanting slogans like “Go home Nazi scum,” “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here” and “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA,” which have been common at other counter protests.
The lone arrest came about halfway through the rally. Brandon Alan Howard, 33, who goes by “Brian Fife” on Facebook was arrested by EPD and charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct after he was witnessed harassing counter-protesters. EPD said in a press release that Howard was found to have a wrench taped to his arm.
Howard’s online presence indicates he is a Trump supporter, but he was dressed like Antifa during the rally. Sometimes referred to as using “black-bloc” tactics, Antifa typically dresses in all black and will cover their faces with scarves, hoods and sunglasses. After the event, rally organizer Andrew Allwander referenced Antifa violence, and claimed online that Antifa had tried to punch rally-goers, seemingly referring to Howard.
Allwander also claims Howard harassed rally-goers. Eugene Weekly, however, witnessed Howard mingling peaceably amongst the group, even partially removing his mask when talking to some of them. When EW asked about the conversation, rally-goers responded only that Howard was “undercover.”
The event was mostly peaceful, and several counter-protesters worked to lighten tensions in more unconventional ways, such as one man dancing near the rally-goers while wearing only a thong — an act many found amusing.
Sarah Skochko, of the Unitarian Universalist Church said she was there to express her beliefs.
“This is an act of faith. The fascists wanted to bring God into it, and so the God contingent is showing up. And I just find it really interesting that people make gods of their own imagining, and they just happen to look like themselves.
“Our faith as Unitarian Universalists calls us to show up in the name of justice and in the name of peace.”
Jason Marks, 54, of Lane County said he was at the rally to show support for the Second Amendment and didn’t see being armed with an AR-15 style rifle at the rally as intimidating. When asked if he supports Donald Trump’s presidency, he said only that he voted for him and he supports the office of the presidency no matter who holds the position. He added he has some reservations about Trump.
City Councilor Emily Semple, who was among the counter-protesters as a private citizen and not as a representative of the city said that, while not ideal, she was happy the rally went off mostly peacefully. She said she was there partly to see what was happening but also to stand up with the people she supports. When asked if she thought the event was a success as far as remaining mostly peaceful, she said she did.
Semple said, “I think on a lot of levels it was good — expression of free speech and it got this community of activists off their couch and to interact again.”