Shortly before noon a small crowd gathered on the Clark College campus to rally with Joey Gibson and Patriot Prayer. School administrators canceled classes today in anticipation of the rally, leaving the campus mostly empty. The demonstration is protesting Initiative 1639, a gun-safety measure on the November ballot, and drew a crowd made up of media as much as Patriot Prayer members or followers.
Gibson started the rally with a call to recall Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. Gibson is a Vancouver resident. A few people carried or wore flags draped over their shoulders and Make America Great Again hats could be seen in the crowd. A few people also had No on I-1639 signs.
Steven Cox, a former candidate for Vancouver mayor, also spoke at the rally, calling himself an expert on self-defense. Cox shot and killed a suspected prowler in his backyard Oct. 18, 2017. He was not charged in the shooting.
Campus security was on standby during the rally, on the fringes of the event in case of any violence or other issues.
Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, a frequent figure at Patriot Prayer rallies around the Northwest, told the crowd the government is trying to “wage war” on the Constitution.“If I have a gun, I can pop a criminal straight right there,” Toese said.
A few people countered the speakers. One woman shouted at Gibson, asked “why are you so associated with violence?”
After about 40 minutes the rally devolved into shouting over various topics with Toese squaring off against a Clark College student, shortly before the group planned to head to the freeway overpass to demonstrate. By a little after 1 p.m. the demonstrators were waving flags on the Evergreen Boulevard overpass near the Vancouver Community library over Interstate 5.
Patriot Prayer in a Saturday Facebook post that it would return Clark College on Wednesday when classes were back in session.
The Vancouver-based far-right group also has plans to rally Tuesday at Washington State University Vancouver. While the school has not canceled classes, a blood drive was canceled “as a result of the Patriot Prayer” being on campus at the same time, according to the VanCougar.
Brenda Alling, WSU Vancouver spokeswoman, clarified that campus isn’t closed Tuesday, but individual professors may have chosen to cancel class in anticipation of the Tuesday rally, frustrating students.
Patriot Prayer rallies, often held in liberal strongholds as a tactic to increase the group’s visibility, consistently lead to violence as counterprotesters clash with group members, along with white nationalists and other fringe-right extremists drawn to the organization’s events.
In a message to students and staff last week, Clark College President Bob Knight said all classes will be canceled today, and only employees needed for critical work will be asked to come in.
The cancellation applies to all Clark College classes, including those at WSU Vancouver and Columbia Tech Center, he said.
“As a public institution of higher education, we value civil discourse on a wide range of topics, and we welcome free speech and open debate. However, we have to balance those values with the needs of our students to have a safe environment in which to learn, and of our employees to have a safe environment in which to work,” Knight said in a statement.
Clark College spokeswoman Hannah Erickson said the college is aware of the second demonstration planned for Wednesday, and for now, administrators are anticipating only the single-day campus closure today.
“College leadership is reviewing and revising our incident response protocol to plan for the kinds of risks we are seeing at educational institutions across the country. We plan to reopen the college at all locations on Tuesday,” Erickson said in an email.
Meanwhile, at Hudson’s Bay High School across the street, two extra security guards will be on hand during the demonstration. That campus normally has three district security guards and one school resource officer from the Vancouver Police Department, but today will have five district security guards, district spokeswoman Pat Nuzzo said.
School ends at 1:05 p.m. today, in the middle of Patriot Prayer’s demonstration.
Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson of Vancouver previously estimated about 40 protesters would turn out at the respective campuses, handing out flyers and encouraging people to vote against the ballot measure.