AUGUST 15: WARWOLVES OF PORTLAND
August 25, 2020 by JAMES O’RYAN
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An unusual scene began during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. Among the activists manning the western barricade, word rapidly spread that Proud Boys or some other form of alt-right militia was approaching the edge of the action in a limousine with a camera crew. Protesters and press alike couldn’t seem to believe what they were hearing and a decent size crowd formed behind the barricade.
About two blocks from the barricade approximately seven militia members, easily identifiable by their tight navy blue shirts reading “Freedom Fighter” or “American Wolf” were lined up on the sidewalk. A news crew from Deutsche Welle World Service was interviewing their leader, Peter Diaz of Olympia, WA. During this interview, other members of the American Wolves stood mostly silent on the curb and sidewalk behind Mr. Diaz. When asked if they consented to photography or videos the other members of this group emphatically responded they did not. When members of the group besides Mr. Diaz were questioned by members of the press (outside of the Deutsche Welle team that showed up in their limo with them) they refused to answer most of them. Many of these militia members had concealed firearms or open-carried bear mace.
The American Wolf movement are self-described “peacekeepers” organized by Peter Diaz starting, by all appearances, in late May of this year. Mr. Diaz began his group in the traditional way many of the latest crop of right-wing grifters do – A flurry of Tweets at prominent public figures and Donald Trump soliciting exposure.
Formerly a soldier and founder of a tree trimming company, Peter Diaz formed the American Wolf movement as a direct response to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations sweeping the nation in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officers. Peter Diaz (their founder) recently got the VIP treatment from President Trump at his notorious Mt. Rushmore address in South Dakota this past Fourth of July, as revealed in this Washington Post video biography.
Mr. Diaz claimed in his interview with The Olympian that in July he supplied his members with “with paintball guns, bear mace, zip ties, and flashlights.” He referred to the group’s limousine as “his mobile office.” His provocative behavior at protests in Washington state eventually led to more than thirty government officials signing their names to an open letter decrying the American Wolf group less than a month after they formed, listing them beside other recognized extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and Three Percenters. Local religious leaders penned an additional letter against the group’s actions. Signatories included local business owners and citizens–almost 2000 signatures in total. In response to these appeals Mr. Diaz filmed himself urinating onto one of the letters on his social media.
Mr. Diaz and the American Wolf social media presences displayed authoritarian and ultra-conservative leanings while referring to themselves as “Progressive Constitutionalists.” Posts regarding a need for the state to engage in violence against anti-racist/anti-fascist activists are fairly common but typically not explicitly stated so much as implied or hinted at.
Mr. Diaz promotes Conservative politicians that have been willing to meet with him – At this time he has only endorsed one, Loren Culp of Washington state. He also promoted his “recruitment” road trips around Washington State and across the northern portion of the United States on the way to Mt. Rushmore for Trump’s rally (even when these events are sparsely attended beyond his family.) All of the American Wolf presence on Facebook was removed during their purge of “extremist groups,” including QAnon pages, on August 19, 2020.
After finishing the interview with their embedded reporter and videographer, Mr. Diaz led his shockingly small wolf pack towards the protest.
Prior to driving down from Olympia that day he had taken his pack of cubs and news crew out to the firing range for target practice. This was filmed by the American Wolf militia in turn and posted to social media as a brag that a film crew had been embedded with them and, presumably, that they were prepared to do violence using powerful but poorly wielded firearms.
When asked if they would be complying with Oregon state law regarding mask use in public when social distancing they claimed they would be staying “sixteen feet” from protesters and no one had to worry. At this point they were at the intersection NE 50th Ave and E Burnside St, directly across from the manned barricade, formed up and glowering for effect across the street.
American Wolf and Mr. Diaz’s social media revealed a deep anti-mask sentiment, as well as an apparently sincere ignorance of the science behind the coronavirus. Memes regarding people being sheep for wearing masks and misleading statistics regarding COVID-19 are fairly common.
Beyond that their social media revealed a deep-seated antipathy towards the Black Lives Matter protesters.
Whether this is performative as a portion of his grift or genuine is up for debate. What is not up for debate is that Peter Diaz feels comfortable stating such things and drawing like-minded extremists towards him.
Protesters rapidly came out from behind the barricade to confront the provocateurs. Civilians living in the building whose yard the Wolves were standing in approached multiple press members to warn us they had already looked up Mr. Diaz and his American Wolf group. These residents told reporters American Wolf were potentially dangerous to the crowd and neighborhood.
Throughout all of this Mr. Diaz attempted various forms of disingenuous engagement and straw man argumentative tactics with members of the crowd and press, “We came down here to see what’s happening…If you watch any sort of media then you see this…We wanted to put boots on the ground and form our own opinions from there. From what we see, it’s just what you see on the TV.” This is contrary to what Mr. Diaz and his group had previously posted on their social media.
Things rapidly escalated when multiple African American community members confronted the Wolves. At this point Mr. Diaz had staged the situation so his extremist group looked like victims to the German press. He began to slowly withdraw his group. Incensed at Mr. Diaz’s propagandizing of the Black Lives Matter movement, protesters followed the group several blocks to their customized limousine, emblazoned with “American Wolf” and “AmericanWolf689.org.” When protesters and neighborhood citizens began hurling a mix of canned goods, paint bombs, water bottles, and glass bottles the limousine roared away from the area and parked in the QCF parking lot at 55th and Burnside.
While most protesters fell back to the barricade at MCSO a number of enraged community members followed the Wolves down the street to their vehicle. Other members of the press observed community members attempting to provoke the Wolves into fistfights while hurling abuse at them. At one point several objects were again thrown at the limousine again as the Wolves were packing it in and the limo driver flashed a handgun to the assembly. It was at that point that the crowd began to disperse and the Wolves once again roared their motor loudly in retreat, leaving the Deutsche Welle film crew in the parking lot with the other press.
During this scuffle, back at MCSO, a riot was declared after officers allowed people to spray paint graffiti on the property.
Gas and smoke were deployed in addition to the incredibly sturdy riot batons. Police bull rushed the shield line, literally leaping on top of the shield-bearers that were set to receive fire, smashing and pulling the wall apart while beating protesters. Police riot lines drove the protesters back to Laurelhurst Park and established a control line at Cesar Chavez Boulevard. This line held only briefly before deploying smoke and retreating.
At this point the crowd, buoyed by the police retreat, reformed for another march on the MCSO. As they began to head back riot police returned to the scene and flattened the tires on the vehicle leading the march back up East Burnside Street. Here the bulk of the protest reassembled to face down the established riot line; meanwhile, behind the police lines, small groups of protesters emerged from their hiding spaces in the shadowed North Portland neighborhood and began reassembling at the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office as well as along East Burnside.
At this point several protesters in black bloc attire began warning people on Burnside that the American Wolves limousine had been seen parked on NE 44th Ave near NE Glisan Street. Protesters had legitimate concerns that the Wolves could agitate or engage in violence.
After the police flattened the lead vehicles’ tires some protesters began to lob the current flavors of protest projectiles – water bottles and paint bombs, mostly. Several folks threw rocks into the police riot lines as well, damaging the LRAD vehicle and frightening two officers so badly they went to the hospital without injuries. Officers chased the responsible parties into the surrounding neighborhood.
Police used this opportunity to push the crowd once again, openly mocking protesters with disabilities or who use wheelchairs and making several additional arrests. One woman, walking with a cane, told the officers that she was moving as fast as she could. In response to that the officers began calling her “slow” referencing what they felt was a mental disability as well as a physical one. Other protesters comforted her when she began crying after the verbal and physical assault. As per what seems standard at this point officers snatched shields away from anyone they came near, all while refusing to provide identifying numbers when requested.
At this point the crowd was staying on the sidewalks, out of the street, and viciously heckling the visibly demoralized officers. One police officer comforted a friend repeatedly called a “fat pig” by one protester by telling him, “Don’t worry, I still think you’re pretty.” Unfortunately for these officers the nearest protester was a stand-up comic that uses a wheelchair and had been repeatedly derided by these officers. He swiftly responded, “Yeah, take that for what it’s worth – That man is JUST as incompetent as you are…” Both officers visibly slumped and remained silent.
While the bulk of the action was occurring at the new control line on East Burnside near N 41st Avenue the American Wolves made their move. The limousine came up NE 44th and men piled out wielding bear mace on the lone femme standing on the street corner, trying to decide if she was headed back to the MCSO or down to the control line. In moments, and without their conveniently abandoned embedded news team, these cowardly canines had beaten and blinded a woman before roaring away as aid charged towards the scene of the attack. Street medics treated the woman on scene and she was escorted away by members of an affinity group. No police actions were taken regarding this assault.
Less than ten minutes after the craven attack by so-called patriots, the police riot line once again withdrew to the cheers of the still sidewalk-dwelling crowd. Protesters began moving back to the MCSO once again, this time largely staying out of the street. When the crowd arrived at the intersection of 44th & Burnside again, audible coughing began as people encountered the still-lingering cloud of bear mace and discovered the attack had occurred. A murmur of displeasure rippled through the crowd and they proceeded back to the precinct.
For the rest of the evening a tired but celebratory air encompassed the protest scene. Demetria Hester, leader for the Portland branch of Black Moms United for Black Lives Matter, chanted and danced on the sidewalk in front of the Sheriff’s Office until approximately 2 AM at which point the crowd organically dispersed. As of this writing, no further attacks by American Wolves in Portland have been reported but they have promised to return in force.
James O’Ryan is a Portland-based journalist who’s going to be writing for LCRW on ongoing local issues such as far-right violence and police brutality. You can contribute to his work at @PunchableFace on Venmo.
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