Violence erupts at Bend demonstrations
Violence broke out between pro-Trump ralliers and racial justice demonstrators sharing a Bend park Saturday, when police did not cite or arrest a man who pointed a gun at people.
The tense coexistence of groups at Pilot Butte Neighborhood Park erupted into a brawl after a 23-year-old man allegedly snatched a Trump flag and ran. Several pro-Trump ralliers chased him down. Some people threw punches and were met with mace. Then, a man pointed a handgun into the crowd, photos and video reviewed by OPB show. City of Bend police confiscated the gun, and let the man go.
His release sparked outrage among some racial justice demonstrators, who said they planned a picnic on Bend’s east side specifically to avoid conflict with a Pro-Trump rally expected to take place the same day at Drake Park, in the center of town.
Several demonstrators screamed at police, wanting to know why the officers did not arrest someone who pointed a gun. Earlier in the day, police did not take formal action against a different man who was riding a dirt bike without license plates through the parking lot. He popped wheelies near people until he fell over while speeding around a curve, bloodying his elbow. The man was among multiple pro-Trump ralliers openly consuming beer at the park.
Most of the pro-Trump ralliers drove away by 5:30 p.m., and the police tried to go, too. But several racial justice demonstrators blocked the path of a cruiser, shouting at the officers to “denounce white supremacy” if they wanted to leave. Officers physically moved a woman out of the way. She dropped to the ground. The police were dragging her across the pavement when a crowd dog-piled on top of the woman, forming a shield. At this, the officers withdrew and left the scene.
The only person police cited on Saturday was Garrett Gerdes, the 23-year-old who allegedly stole the Trump flag, according to a press release from Bend police spokesperson Juli-Ann McConkey.
Bend PD did not release the name of the man whose gun was confiscated, and on Sunday McConkey said that information was not immediately available.
“There’s still a lot of investigation that has to be done. And that’s why the case is still open,” McConkey told OPB.
“People blocking the patrol cars is considered to be interfering with peace officers and charges could be filed potentially,” she said.
Before Saturday’s violence, a pro-Trump rally organizer put out conflicting and frequently changing information about the location of events in support of the president, and who about would be going to them.
Trump rally organizer Nicolas Dieringer told local media he was waiting to give out location details in order to avoid a large counterprotest. But, social media posts contradict that. When the day came, Dieringer directed people to a park where a picnic for racial justice causes had already been announced.
“We have the perfect place to meet,” according to Dieringer’s updated Facebook event page, “Remember, we are not the anarchist. This is a peaceful gathering.”
Dieringer could not immediately be reached for comment. Last week, he told Central Oregon Daily that, despite rumors, the pro-Trump events would not include the Proud Boys, a far-right group that has engaged in violence at protests and was recently in the national spotlight during the first presidential debate.
Yet, in a private Facebook message obtained by OPB, Dieringer replied to a request for information with an audio message: “An amazing event. The Proud Boys are coming down as well. They are going to be there. We have a lot of surprises, too. … We are going to have one massive cruise rally all through Bend. We want it to be so big that we cause traffic jams. We need to make a big statement.”
On Saturday, children on both sides of the park bore witness, as did passersby out for a hike up Pilot Butte. Some people taunted each other and called out vulgar names. Others gathered signatures from both sides of the park on a large board reading: “We denounce white supremacy in all its forms.” At one point, a woman attending the racial justice picnic screamed at a teenage girl, mocking her Trump shirt and asking if she was going to cry.
One of the organizers of the picnic, Kersten Arias, said she was in shock over the violence because she intentionally chose the Pilot Butte location to avoid a confrontation.
“This wasn’t supposed to be a scary event. We had children there. It was supposed to be friendly. We were in a neighborhood so you would be safe,” said the co-founder of the Central Oregon Diversity Project.
But to her, the police response was not surprising.
"I expect it every time. For us to get assaulted, for us to show them [the police] proof, to have video and witnesses, and for them to say, ‘It’s not enough.’”
Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting