The right-wing group Patriot Prayer, associated with a man killed in the Portland protests, has a history of provoking left-wing groups: 'This was just a matter of time'

Karen Ducey/Getty Imagessupporters and members of Patriot Prayer and Peoples Rights Washington rally against the Washington state mask mandate on June 26, 2020 in Vancouver, Washington.
  • Patriot Prayer is a small group of right-wing activists with a membership that overlaps with the Proud Boys, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
  • The group shows up in progressive West coast cities to protest movements calling for social justice or anti-racism.
  • On Saturday, Aaron Danielson, reportedly a supporter of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, was killed while taking part in a counter-protest in Portland.
  • Vegas Tenold, an investigative researcher for the ADL’s Centre on Extremism, fears that Danielson’s killing will spark more bloodshed.
  • “This was just a matter of time,” he told Insider.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A skirmish between conservative and Black Lives Matters protesters ended Saturday night with the shooting death of Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a supporter of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, according to the Associated Press.

Patriot Prayer, a small group of conservative activists based in Washington state, is known for gathering progressive cities in the Pacific Northwest to host provocative events.

Danielson was wearing a Patriot Prayer hat at the time of his death. On Sunday, President Trump tweeted “rest in peace Jay,” and retweeted a message claiming that Danielson had been “murdered in Portland by ANTIFA.”

“This was just a matter of time,” Vegas Tenold, an investigative researcher for the Anti-Defamation League’s Centre on Extremism, told Insider Monday. “These kind of movements have been at odds and just sort of fiercely fighting for a long time.”

Tenold has been tracking extremist hate groups and white supremacy for 10 years, first as a journalist and now at ADL.

He became familiar with Patriot Prayer a few years ago, he told Insider.

Portland protest violenceAP Photo/Paula BronsteinA man is treated after being shot Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, in Portland, Ore.

The group is led by Joey Gibson, a right-wing activist who has held pro-Trump rallies in Portland and other cities since 2016. Supporters are often armed, and the events have drawn counterprotesters from around the region.

“Their ideology is extremely vague. They’re pretty much just pro-God, pro-first amendment. That’s their whole thing,” Tenold told Insider. “There is a lot of member overlap with Proud Boys.”

The Proud Boys are a white nationalist activist group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, which has classified it as a hate group. According to Tenold, membership can be fluid between the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer.

“There are a lot of people who used to be with Joey Gibson who are now with Proud Boys, and I think vice versa,” he said.

Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys have a lot in common

Unlike Patriot Prayer, the Proud Boys has many chapters around the country which operate – for the most part – independently from one another, Tenold said.

Patriot Prayer is a much smaller, regional group. But Tenold said the groups attract the same kind of person.

“It’s just the kind of guy who wants to go out into the street and square-off with protesters,” Tenold said. “These guys just kind of exist to antagonize protesters.”

“Aside from the religious aspect, the way they operate is pretty similar,” he added. “It’s just sort of: ‘We’re against communism.'”

Patriot Prayer members will attend most large alt-right demonstrations hosted by Proud Boys, but most of their own gatherings are smaller, Tenold said. The events sometimes consist of skirmishes with members of Antifa, a broad term that refers to groups identifying as anti-fascist.

“Most of the time it’s Joey Gibson and three dudes on a corner shouting stuff about the Bible,” Tenold said. “They tend to face off against Antifa quite a lot.”

Proud boysPaula Bronstein/Getty ImagesThe Proud Boys, an alt-right group, faces off against Black Lives Matters protesters using mace and a paint ball gun on August 15, 2020 in downtown Portland, Oregon.

Gibson honoured Danielson in a Facebook post and shared a GoFundMe to raise money for his family. It had raised more than $US25,000 by Monday afternoon.

“We love Jay and he had such a huge heart,” he posted on Facebook. “God bless him and the life he lived.”

In the same post, he encouraged supporters to attend a boating event in support of President Donald Trump.

“I know that Jay would love to look down from heaven and see tons of American flags on the Columbia River today,” he wrote. “I will not be attending but I hope all of you enjoy yourselves out there. Fly them high for Jay.”

Last year, Gibson pleaded not guilty to a charge of inciting a riot after a street brawl outside Cider Riot, a cider house in Portland, Oregon Live reported at the time. The charges stemmed from a fight that broke out in May of that year, when left-wing activists met at the cider house to celebrate the May Day rallies of 2014. The Patriot Prayer group – six of whom were charged – fought with customers and injured at least one person.

“There’s always been violence. They have taken part in most of the Proud Boys-led protests and riots out there,” Tenold said. “Wherever they have gone, violence often follows.”

Street violence has ramped up in reaction to Black Lives Matter protests

The recent police violence against Black Americans like George Floyd and Jacob Blake has sparked protests – a handful of which have included violence – around the country.

Last week, three anti-racism protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, were shot by a teenager carrying an AR-15. Two of them died.

PortlandJohn Rudoff/Getty ImagesFederal officers deploy huge quantities of CS tear gas in Portland, Oregon on July 21, 2020.

Andrew Duncomb, a conservative activist, was stabbed during a downtown Portland demonstration July 29, Oregon Live reported.

Danielson’s death, though, is the first time a supporter of the group has been killed, Tenold said.

“Quite frankly, I wasn’t surprised,” Tenold said of Danielson’s killing. “I wasn’t that surprised about the murders in Kenosha either.”

As counter-protesters show up to these heated environments, violent conflicts are bound to happen, Tenold said, calling the unrest a “perfect storm” for violence.

“I don’t really know how authorities are going to step in to do anything about this,” Tenold said. “As long as people are allowed to both carry guns and also brawl in the streets – and now that so much blood has been shed – I fear that there’s going to be more.”

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