Days after a white supremacist stabbed three men who tried to to stop him from shouting racial slurs at two fellow train passengers, both Muslim women, Portland’s mayor is trying to prevent two rallies that he says could promote further hate speech. The rallies are being organized by two different groups, one called “Trump Free Speech Rally Portland,” the other billed as #MarchAgainstSharia, referencing Muslim religious law.
According to ABC affiliate KATU2, Portland, Oregon mayor Ted Wheeler explained in a Monday press conference “My concern is they’re coming here to peddle a message of hatred and bigotry. They have a First Amendment right to speak, but hate speech is not protected.”
Indeed, because of free speech laws, Wheeler can’t do much about the rallies other than publicly advocate against them. The rallies aren’t slated to be held on city or even state property, but instead in a park under federal jurisdiction.
CNN reports that the “Trump Free Speech Rally Portland” organizers acknowledge that Jeremy Christian, the man accused of carrying out the stabbing, had appeared at a previous rally, but the group disavows him. “Jeremy Christian has nothing to do with us. He hated us, he threatened me. We did everything we could to kick him out. We didn’t want him with us,” Joey Gibson, the rally’s organizer, told CNN.
Christian had appeared at an April 29th rally with a baseball bat and was shouting slurs and giving the Nazi salute, Gibson explained to CNN. Gibson expressed concern to local NBC affiliate KGW that if the permit is revoked, it will be harder for rally organizers to remove people like Christian if they get out of control. Gibson is also concerned that Mayor Wheeler is using the stabbings as a political tool to oppose the Trump Free Speech Rally. He “is using this as an opportunity to use these two dead people to silence us,” Gibson said.
#MarchAgainstSharia has been less vocal regarding their planned event (one of several taking place across the country) for June 10th. The organization behind the march, ACT For America, describes itself as “the NRA of national security.” It says the aim of #MarchAgainstSharia is to promote human rights. Southern Poverty Law Center, however, describes the group as “the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America.” The SPLC also notes ACT For America’s affiliation with Breitbart News, the far-right publication with notable ties to white nationalist movements founded by White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.
So far the federal government has only issued a permit for the Trump Free Speech Rally, not the #MarchAgainstSharia. The ACLU of Oregon has also weighed in, and agrees with Wheeler’s assessment on the legality of both rallies. Technically the rallies are protected until hate speech is uttered or other law-breaking actions are taken.
In a statement on his official Facebook page, Mayor Wheeler explained his reasoning:
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. I am appealing to the organizers of the alt-right demonstrations to CANCEL the events they have scheduled on June 4th and June 10th. I urge them to ask their supporters to stay away from Portland. There is never a place for bigotry or hatred in our community, and especially not now.