1 hammer, 1 ‘antifa mob chase’: A closer look at Portland’s viral protest moments

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Most of Portland was left unscathed after rival protesters converged on the city’s waterfront in a tense but relatively uneventful face-off.

Those watching Saturday’s events from afar might have seen a different picture entirely.

A number of contentious moments unfolded after a rally held by the right-wing Proud Boys to condemn anti-fascist activists, or antifa, wrapped up across the Willamette River and hundreds of counterprotesters remained downtown.

Over the next several hours, droves of left-leaning demonstrators often wandered into the street, sometimes blocking traffic, chanting and beating drums. Others confronted riot police or the stray right-wing activist hanging around.

There were small skirmishes, smashed windows and more than a dozen people arrested. Many held cellphones aloft, taking it all in.

Two flare-ups caught on video have become the latest flash points between ideological opponents, racking up millions of views online and spreading chaotic scenes that were cast with inaccurate claims and provided limited context.

Both were promoted by local conservative writer Andy Ngo, who was assaulted by black-clad demonstrators during a June protest in Portland and has more than 270,000 Twitter followers. Footage of his attack generated national headlines and helped spark calls among conservatives to label antifa a “domestic terrorist organization.”

While Ngo didn’t attend Saturday’s protests or shoot either video that day, much of his massive online audience takes their cues from him.

The Oregonian/OregonLive took a closer look at the pair of Saturday’s viral moments.

Bus brawl captured, hammer thrown

Narrative: “Antifa attacks people on a bus. They try to pull them out and hit them with a hammer.”

Number of views: 3 million and counting.

A closer look: Someone on the bus appeared to take the first hammer swing.

What does the video show? A group of a counterprotesters, some of them in helmets or with their faces covered, charge a small, gray bus that is stopped in traffic on a Morrison Bridge off-ramp going into downtown Portland. They appear to scuffle with several people inside the bus through the vehicle’s open door. A claw hammer can be seen being used.

What happened in the moments before? Another video taken at a distance from a nearby parking lot appears to show at least two counterprotesters throwing projectiles at the shuttle bus while it is stopped on the off-ramp. One of the demonstrators also runs up the bus and pounds on a window with his hands. A large group of onlookers erupt into cheers when the group charges the bus. The second video goes on to show counterprotesters smashing the windows of a yellow school bus.

Who was on the gray bus? There have been widely circulated claims, including those made by reporters at the scene, that those riding in the shuttle bus were Proud Boys. It appears that they are actually members of the American Guard, a group the Anti-Defamation League labels a white supremacist organization.

What’s the evidence? Photos surfaced online after the confrontation that show 11 people sporting American Guard T-shirts and holding a banner that reads “American Guard Utah” in front of an identical gray bus. The video shows people inside the bus who appear to be wearing the same T-shirts as those in the photo. Images and video of one of the men inside the bus appear to be one of the people posing in the American Guard photo.

So who had the hammer the first? Though it is somewhat grainy and hard to see, the original video shows someone inside the bus swinging the hammer at counterprotesters before it is wrested away and thrown back into the bus. A separate photo of the scuffle clearly shows that a man inside the shuttle bus had a hammer in his hand and was swinging it.

The Oregonian/OregonLive was not at the scene during the incident and has not been able to independently identify any of the counterprotesters involved. The American Guard has not responded to emails sent to its national organization or its Utah chapter.

Crowd follows man dressed as Spartan, his companion

Narrative: “A large antifa mob chase & attack a man & a young girl who got separated from the others.”

Number of views: 2.5 million and counting

A closer look: The man is a well-known conservative provocateur, and he was accompanied by his adult daughter.

What does the video show? A large group of counterprotesters encircle two people on Southwest Naito Parkway near the Battleship Oregon Memorial Marine Park. One of them is a man wearing an ancient Greek warrior-style helmet and body armor with “I hate the left n racism” on the back and is holding a shield and a flag with “Trump” written on it. The other appears to be a girl or young woman wearing a bicycle helmet and an American flag-style sweatshirt.

Some counterprotesters appear to throw liquid on the man, who responds by wildly swinging his shield at people near him. The crowd then begins to move in on the man and his female companion, who retreat. The crowd continues to pursue them for more than a minute as they eventually make their way onto the Morrison Bridge and take off.

Who are these two? The man in the warrior costume is John Turano, a right-wing provocateur from Southern California who goes by the name “Based Spartan.” His companion is his adult daughter, Bianca Turano.

John Turano, also known by the moniker "Based Spartan," attends a June 2017 right-wing rally in downtown Portland.

John Turano, also known by the moniker “Based Spartan,” attends a June 2017 right-wing rally in downtown Portland.

The pair has traveled up and down the West Coast over the last two years attending right-wing rallies, including previous ones held in Portland. John Turano achieved minor celebrity in conservative circles for heckling and occasionally brawling with counterprotesters while in character.

“I’m not political, so I’ll unleash on anyone,” he told Vice News last year. “It’s just something that grows within me. And when it explodes, I explode.”

His daughter also spoke with Vice, explaining why she regularly accompanies her father at these demonstrations. “I don’t want him to, like, you know, blow up and do something he might regret,” Bianca Turano said. “Sometimes he gets a little crazy.”

John and Bianca Turano did not return phone calls or Facebook messages from The Oregonian/OregonLive seeking comment.

— Shane Dixon Kavanaugh; 503-294-7632

Email at skavanaugh@oregonian.com

Follow on Twitter @shanedkavanaugh

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