Tensions flare in wake of US election
The liberal enclave in the state of Oregon had braced for possible armed clashes after months of divisive rallies involving left-wing activists, right-wing militias and federal officers deployed by the Trump administration.
The confusing election results last night and this morning have ignited tensions once more.
Demonstrators burned US flags and marched through Portland armed with protest songs and assault rifles as a confusing election night unfolded to high tension but without violence in the northwestern city.
As President Donald Trump claimed he won the US election early Wednesday, despite key states still counting ballots, activists gathered outside the Portland federal courthouse -- the epicenter of the summer's fraught anti-racism protests.
"We don't like either candidate. I shamefully voted for Biden but if Trump gets another four years people will be mad," said one 20-year-old protester, as two American flags were ignited in front of the building.
The FBI has warned of the potential for armed clashes in Portland linked to the polls, but there were no signs of election night activity from right-wing groups such as the Proud Boys.
And by the early hours of Wednesday police had not engaged with the protesters, some of whom earlier participated in a peaceful 400-strong Black Lives Matter march around east Portland.
"IT'S GONNA BE CRAZY"
The three-hour march was led by a convoy including at least half a dozen protesters armed with assault rifles, knives and a shotgun. Rumors and reports of shifts in the national and state races still being counted spread among marchers.
"I heard Trump has the momentum now," said 20-year-old protest leader Ty Ford. "It's gonna be a riot. Whenever it comes out, it's gonna be crazy." "It is like picking between two evils but honestly, we'll settle with Biden," said fellow leader "D.D.," aged 22.
Demands ranged from abolishing ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to justice for Black victims of police violence including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, before the march ended with a rendition of "Hallelujah." There were also moments of levity as protest leaders cajoled those watching the march from their apartment windows to join the rally.
"Hey, stick your head out the window, tell us how the election is going - and then maybe slip on your shoes and come help us start a revolution," shouted one activist.
Around the country there have been reports of violent incidents with police in Washington D.C. saying they were investigating a stabbing near the White House after a confrontation between Trump supporters and another group in the early hours of November 4.
On the West Coast in Los Angeles, dozens of people were arrested as police declared an election night gathering near the Staples Center unlawful.
Mr Trump has held the solid support of around 45 per cent of the country for the past four years, but according to polls more than half of the country hates him.
So this was the election cycle that would sweep him from office. At least that's what the experts said.
Tuesday morning dawned with long lines at voting sites.
In Washington DC, a group of Black Bloc demonstrators seemed to just be angry about everything and everyone as they talked about plans to topple a confederate statue.
"F. Trump, f … Biden, f … presidents, f … everyone," they chanted as they stormed through Thomas Circle Path near the White House.
Cities across America were bracing for violence.
Many states had their National Guard troops on standby to deal with any unrest ignited by the presidential election.
Massachusetts and Texas have activated as many as 1,000 National Guard members, while Arizona and Alabama had 300 troops on standby, and Florida, Illinois, and Texas also had troops on alert.
In regards to potential post-election violence: While the U.S. Marshals Service generally does not discuss any potential enforcement activities, we can confirm that deputy U.S. Marshals stand ready to respond to violent acts of civil disobedience in any location in the nation.— U.S. Marshals (@USMarshalsHQ) November 3, 2020
Some National Guard troops were on standby to respond only to incidents in their states, while others, such as the 600 troops activated in Alabama and Arizona, were ready to support the National Guard Regional Response Unit mission and respond to crises in their own states, as well as others if they need assistance.
In Oregon, which has been wracked with black lives matter riots for months, Governor Kate Brown invoked her emergency powers Monday ahead of anticipated civil unrest in Portland on election night.
Businesses in most of America's major cities boarded up and closed down ahead of election night.
Outside the White House, a climb-proof fence went up to brace for demonstrators reacting to election results.
As the election neared, firearm sales drastically increased.
In October alone, Americans purchased an estimated 1.92 million guns, up 67 per cent from last October, and Illinois gun sales were up an estimated 59 per cent on last year.
Several hundred Joe Biden supporters rallied near the White House, but by nightfall a festive atmosphere was giving way to nervous tension as people fixed their attention on giant screens showing disappointing early results.
"We wanted to come out to support Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, hoping for a celebration," Tammi Girgenti, a 51-year-old retired government official said, adding: "I'm a little disappointed with Florida, that's my home state."
"I'm feeling okay, a little bit nervous and a little apprehensive, but I think Biden can squeeze it out by the end of the night or tomorrow or the next day," she said.
Starting from the afternoon, crowds had converged on two streets recently named Black Lives Matter (BLM) Plaza by the mayor of Washington, which was the focal point of opposition to Trump during racial justice protests over summer.
Others filled a nearby park, McPherson Square, after the traditional area for such gatherings, Lafayette Square, was shut off by a perimeter fence that went up some weeks ago.
A new, unscalable barricade has also gone up inside the perimeter, and dozens of police watched on.
There were no signs of tension between the police and the crowd, who were almost all anti-Trump. Supporters of the president were a rare sight, but when one appeared and expressed their views, they were quickly swarmed by Biden followers who wanted to debate them.
A brief scuffle broke out at one point, though it was unclear who it was between. The fight broke up when a smoke bomb was thrown - apparently not by police, who had already left the area.
- additional reporting AFP
Originally published as Tensions flare in wake of US election