As I crossed the street to the demonstration, a motorcycle gang roared past. During the next 90-minutes, I was cursed twice, and I left with my ears ringing from the shouts and chants. A woman was hit with a bottle; a helmet-wearing man with a wrench taped to his arm was arrested for head-butting. Because the head butter wore a helmet, and I had a helmet (I had biked), I assumed that the woman who cursed me was redirecting her rage at him. The man who cursed me was just plain crazy. When he was unable to get his wheelchair over a rise, I asked if he wanted a push, and he became infuriated. A bearded man wore a dog collar, black short-shorts, and a bra under his purple halter top. Another man wore a red g-string and red tassels on his nipples. The police estimated the attendance at 300, and while that might have been the crowd size at any given time, people were coming and going.
I had thought there would be a clear division between the gun-nuts and the protestors, but the two intermingled. An old man in a red cape and a gold crown went about arguing with the gun people. An old woman had a sign that read, "Tell me why you support Trump; I'm here to listen." I heard people screaming, "Fuck you," and other people responding, "No, fuck YOU!" People had to shout to even be heard by the person next to them.
I sat atop a four-foot high wall that enclosed a large planter, and behind me stood a woman with a shotgun in her hands and a large pistol on her thigh. She was wrapped in a Gadsden flag, and looked down upon the demonstration protectively. Several people carried assault rifles, and I observed that one of them had her finger on the trigger. Most of the gun-nuts were men. I left my first vantage point to stand atop another four-foot wall that was near the center of the rally. The police were unable to keep the crowd out of the street, so they finally closed 8th Avenue. A man walked back and forth through the crowd with a 360-degree camera above his head.
When the bottle was thrown, the mood got ugly, and some of the gun-nuts yelled profanities at the police for "not doing anything," although the thought of police shoving their way through the crowd enmasse was unimaginable. On that and another occasion, I momentarily felt fear, but my overriding emotions were rage and disgust. I wondered what the gun-nuts planned to do if attacked--shoot into the crowd? And what did they imagine the lightly armed cops would do? As for the shotgun carrying woman--did she envision herself heroically emptying her scattergun, throwing it at the crowd, and then drawing her pistol, and didn't she realize how easy it would be for someone to either push her off the planter or grab her ankle from below and pull her off? Then there was the possibility of a gun going off accidentally, the crowd panicking, and other guns being fired at anyone who looked like a member of Antifa, perhaps even at some harmless seventy-year-old with a bike helmet.
When, in 2017, another set of gun-nuts forcibly occupied the offices of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, they would walk around the nearby town of Burns heavily armed. A local woman said of them, "Everybody in the Oregon desert has guns, but it would be offensive to wear them openly." As Tom, a reader of this blog, pointed out two posts ago, there are reasonable gun owners, but people who carry assault rifles into a crowded and emotionally-charged urban area aren't among them. Their goal is to instill fear, to say, "We are heavily armed, so you had better not tread on us by opposing our values."
When Antifa didn't appear, I assumed they were marshaling their resources for the Portland demonstration, and I felt compassion for them. My emotions--though not my head--told me that the enemy of Trump is my friend. I didn't anticipate this. I had stupidly thought that I would at least respect the gun-nuts for their courage in coming, but what respect I might have felt was displaced by disgust and loathing because it was people like myself they were trying to intimidate, and because they looked so utterly stupid. If their goal was simply to protect themselves, they could have carried pepper spray (which is legal in Oregon), but to carry assault rifles that fire small bullets at extremely high velocity, bullets that are designed to tumble through human bones and flesh and kill people blocks away!
When I got home, I learned that the police had detained a Texas man who was on his way to kill people at next week's Portland demonstration. This got me to wondering what the Eugene gun-nuts would have done had one of their number started killing people. They are to public safety what a child with matches is to gasoline, and I'm just sorry that when the explosion happens, others will also pay the price. I can but hope that the ones who survive will be locked away for a long, long time, and that the bloodshed will at long last inspire strongly restrictive gun laws.
What strikes me as I look back a day later is how easily one car backfiring, one firecracker exploding, one gun going off accidentally, or one stupid move by one ignorant, angry, or emotionally disturbed person, could have resulted in multiple deaths. I shudder as I anticipate this week's Portland rally because this kind of event cannot keep happening without one of them ending in disaster.