Wednesday, March 29, 2023
March 29, 2023

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Trump rally guests, protesters square off in Esther Short Park

By , Columbian environment and transportation reporter
4 Photos
Trump opponents, dressed in black, set fire to a Trump/Pence campaign flag and a sign.
Trump opponents, dressed in black, set fire to a Trump/Pence campaign flag and a sign. (Andy Matarrese/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Hundreds of supporters and detractors of President Donald Trump exchanged words, some very short and choppy, during a pro-Trump rally at Esther Short Park on Sunday afternoon, but the event was relatively calm compared to recent rallies and counter-protests held in the Portland metro area.

Approximately 300 people, counting both sides, showed up at the rally, along with dozens of police officers. Many observers filed in and out of the downtown Vancouver park through the afternoon. The rally coincided with the farmers market.

Save a few scuffles along the orange plastic mesh fence police set up around the rally area in the center of the park, and some tossed smoke bombs, the competing exercises in free speech didn’t climb to a level of rowdiness or acrimony seen at some other Trump rally counter-protests around the country.

Joey Gibson, who helped organize the rally and an earlier, pre-election rally in Vancouver, said he thought things went relatively smooth.

“The protesters were pretty well-behaved compared to other places. We appreciate that,” Gibson said. “Our people were pretty well-behaved. I didn’t see too much yelling and screaming going on, so that’s good.”

“Good passion, good energy, that’s all that matters,” Gibson said.

Vancouver police Lt. Greg Raquer said that a final tally wasn’t yet available Sunday evening, but about 10 people had been arrested, pending citations for park rule violations or refusing to obey police orders. Another person may have been arrested for assault, he said. No injuries were reported.

Raquer said there were 36 police officers working the park, and that the department had been preparing for Sunday after seeing the rougher rallies and counter-protests held in Salem and Lake Oswego in Oregon.

What helped, he said, was that officers were able to communicate with rally organizers ahead of time to talk about park rules and permit expectations.

“What happened is what we expected,” he said.

Rally guests began to arrive at the park around noon, after organizers had set up a few vendor tables and sound equipment in the gazebo and main stage area at the center of the park. Protesters, many clad in all black and wearing masks, began converging on the park not much later.

Before the rally, police ringed the central grassy area in front of the gazebo stage, and the play area along Esther Street, with plastic fencing.

Police officers and volunteers watched points of entry to the rally space. Several rally guests carried holstered firearms.

Rally speakers included Gibson; Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas; local conservative activist Christian Berrigan; Trump campaign worker Bruno Kelpsas; perennial local political candidate Justin Forsman, and Joel Mattila, the sole Trump delegate from Washington at the national Republican nominating convention last year. The Marlin James Band provided live music.

In her speech, Pike railed against government bureaucracy and regulations, and a state that she said was too quick to spend “OPM,” or “other people’s money.”

“I never forget I work for you guys, and I’m pretty sure Donald Trump never forgets that he works for you,” she said to roars of applause.

The more vocal rally guests and protesters debated, or hurled four-letter invective, over the fencing through much of the rally.

On at least one occasion, protesters appeared to attempt to jump the fencing, leading to short scrums with groups of rallygoers that were broken up by police. Someone among the protesters — many of whom appeared to be anarchists or “antifas,” for anti-fascists — lit smoke bombs and tossed a few into the rally area, as well. A rally guest tossed at least one back.

Other protesters banged drums and repeated “black lives matter” chants and other chants decrying Trump, racism or fascism, such as “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.” One played a saxophone. After the rally was essentially over, a group of protesters lit a Trump-Mike Pence campaign flag on fire.

Portland’s Michael Hyde, who described himself as an anarcho-capitalist, said he came to the rally with a small group of fellow protesters. Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency, Hyde said, did a lot to spur his activism and politics.

He said he felt compelled to protest Sunday because he’s against any form of oppression, whether it comes from a state or interpersonal pressure.

“I don’t like people who have extremely strong-held political beliefs that try to force them on others,” he said, adding that he thinks that applies to both rallygoers and other protesters.

The rally was largely over by 3 p.m., with only a few organizers and a gaggle of the more vocal protesters sticking around until about 4 p.m.

39 Photos
Cathy House of Tacoma, center, waves her flags along with others participating at a rally Sunday in support of President Donald Trump.
Pro-Trump rally in Esther Short Park Photo Gallery
Columbian environment and transportation reporter