PORTLAND, Ore. — Crowds swelled to several thousand as demonstrators from the far right- and left converged in downtown Portland Sunday a week after the fatal stabbing of two men on a light-rail train by a man police say was shouting anti-Muslim slurs.
Hundreds of protesters calling themselves anti-fascist assembled across the street from a smaller group of supporters of US President Donald Trump. The groups were separated by a line of heavily armed officers from local and federal police agencies in protective body armor.
At least two people were arrested shortly after the four rallies began, Portland Police said without providing details. On each side, protesters carried signs reflecting a variety of causes, from "Skinheads against racial prejudice" to "Make America Great Again" to "United with love."
Kyle Chapman, the speaker for the planned pro-Donald Trump free speech rally, told media earlier Sunday that it's good to see people "uniting under the banner of American nationalism."
Concerns raised early on
It has been nine days since Fletcher's son, Micah, was wounded and two others killed after they tried to defend two Muslim train riders. Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, accosted the women in what Portland police called "hate speech toward a variety of ethnicities and religions."
Christian faces charges including two counts of aggravated murder, attempted murder, two counts of second-degree intimidation and being a felon in possession of a restricted weapon, police say.
Signs of animosity among the groups holding rallies began to emerge last week in online forums. The tensions put police on high alert and prompted the mayor to call on the federal government to revoke the permit for a pro-Trump group. The Patriot Prayer event, called The Trump Free Speech Rally, is being held at Terry D. Schrunk Plaza, which is federal property where guns are barred. Agents from the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Protective Service will be on hand.
"I'm a strong supporter of the First Amendment no matter what the views are that are being expressed," Mayor Ted Wheeler told HLN on Friday, "but given the timing of this rally, I believed we had a case to make about the threats to public safety."
Federal officials declined the request, saying there was no legal basis to revoke the permit for "Patriot Prayer."
Wheeler also called on protest organizer Joey Gibson to postpone the event. But Gibson told CNN that he hears concerns of violence at every public event he holds. He said his group is not racist or alt-right and it should not be held responsible for the actions of counterdemonstrators.
"Every single time I throw a rally, every single march, it's the same thing," he said Wednesday. "That what I'm going to do is dangerous, what I'm going to do is dangerous for the city because we are going to provoke other people to be violent against us."
He said Patriot Prayer will have its own security to make sure his people stay in line.
A 'robust' police presence
Portland Police Chief Mike Marshmann promised a "robust" law enforcement presence. Authorities warned people coming to the events not to bring weapons or anything that can be perceived as a possible weapon, such bats, fireworks, poles, rocks and sticks.
"We're going to have the groups come downtown and do our best to keep them separated," Marshmann said. "Have their events go as planned, and hopefully everybody goes home safe and won't be injured."
An uneasy peace hung over the demonstrations. In addition to the arrests, a large pickup truck flying two large American flags cruised past hundreds of anti-fascist protesters and honked its horn. Several people in the group ran up to the truck and ripped out the flags, bringing them into the crowd as others applauded. Others threw multiple large water bottles, sticks and other projectiles at the truck, which then sped away.
One Trump supporter said she was marching in support of "free speech" after the mayor's attempt to silence the Patriot Prayer event. Another wearing a "Police Lives Matter" T-shirt said she wanted to "reverse the lies" surrounding Trump supporters.
"Just because we voted for Trump doesn't equal hate speech," Debbie Sluder said.
-- CNN's Paul Vercammen, Bill Kirkos and Traci Tamura reported from Portland. Emanuella Grinberg, Steve Almasy and Nicole Chavez wrote in Atlanta.