PORTLAND — A judge in Oregon granted a motion Tuesday to acquit far-right Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson and associate Russell Schultz on felony riot charges.
Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Benjamin Souede said no reasonable jury could find their behavior at a 2019 street confrontation “threatened an imminent breach of the peace,” Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.
“Oregon’s law clearly does not permit such an outcome,” Souede said, rebuking the district attorney’s office for pursuing a jury trial on the evidence presented.
Schultz, Gibson and their associate Mackenzie Lewis each faced a riot charge for their roles in political violence in May 2019 at the now-closed Northeast Portland bar Cider Riot.
Lewis’ attorney also sought a motion for acquittal, but Souede denied that effort.
After the prosecution rested, defense attorney Brian Schmonsees said the state had presented no evidence that Schultz had participated in any violent activity. Schmonsees argued the video evidence showed Schultz standing on the periphery as those with the far-right and anti-fascists exchanged fist jabs and threw things, and later video showed him telling people in his group that it was time to leave.
In videos presented by the prosecution, Gibson taunts anti-fascists on the bar patio and tells them to “do something.” After someone in the crowd spits on Gibson, he wipes the spit onto a bar patron.
“The record is overwhelming, and I suggest indisputable, that Mr. Gibson spoke obnoxiously to the crowd,” Souede said in his ruling. “He was provocative, he was taunting, he was acting like a troll.”
Souede said Gibson’s activity amounted to speech, and Oregon law prohibits taking speech into consideration when deciding riot charges. A charge of harassment, however, would have been likely to survive a motion for acquittal, Souede said.
“If this defendant could be convicted in this case, there would be no protection for protesters in Oregon on other occasions,” Souede said, before referencing 2020 racial justice protests in Portland.
In his denial of Lewis’ motion for acquittal, Souede pointed to video of Lewis shoving a person and throwing an empty can of mace at a crowd as reason for the trial to continue.
Three other brawl participants with the Patriot Prayer group, Chris Ponte, Ian Kramer and Matthew Cooper were indicted and previously pleaded guilty to riot charges.
Gibson founded the Vancouver, Washington, based Patriot Prayer in 2016. He has held rallies supporting former President Donald Trump and supported other demonstrations organized by the Proud Boys — a group that’s been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.