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Tensions Are On The Rise In Portland After Protester Was Killed

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's start with the facts, as best we know them, of a shooting in Portland, Ore. The shooting was an escalation after months of protest against police brutality. Local groups organized a caravan of pickup trucks. They are opposed to the protests. Many of the trucks flew Trump flags. They planned a route around the city, but some drove downtown, and that is where gunfire erupted. One person was killed. And the leader of a far-right group called Patriot Prayer says the person killed was associated with that group.

We spoke earlier with Oregon Public Broadcasting's Conrad Wilson, who is covering the story. Conrad, good morning.

CONRAD WILSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Really emotional situation, I know. But what facts are confirmed?

WILSON: Well, it's not clear whether the shooting was directly tied to conflicts between those in the caravan and racial justice protesters. There is eyewitness video shot from a distance that appears to capture the shooting, but it doesn't make clear who fired the two shots and for what reason. The man who was killed has not been named by authorities, but the leader of the regional far-right group Patriot Prayer did tell The Associated Press that the man who was killed was a good friend and a supporter.

INSKEEP: OK. So we know that much. And we just want to be clear - people get upset, want you to be upset, you listening. We're going to be as factual as we can. What do we know about this caravan?

WILSON: It was just huge. I mean, it stretched out for miles - hundreds and hundreds of vehicles, many decked out in signs and flags supporting President Trump. Some sprayed mace from the backs of the trucks at racial justice protesters. There were also a few instances where they drove trucks through counterprotesters. A few fights broke out, too. But, really, for the most part, things were relatively peaceful on Saturday until about 8:45 in the evening, when shots rang out in downtown, and police later confirmed that a man was killed.

INSKEEP: OK. And, again, we don't have a lot of confirmation from authorities. But this group Patriot Prayer says the person killed was one of ours, so to speak. What is Patriot Prayer?

WILSON: Yeah. You know, since 2016, there have been these far-right organizations that have held rallies in Portland. Counterdemonstrators, left-wing groups like antifa have turned out. And for years we've sort of seen these political rallies culminate and end in violence. Patriot Prayer is based in the Portland area. They talk about fighting corruption, big government and civic groups that seek to gain power, as they describe, through division and deception. They began in 2016, and they've rallied for President Trump. Their leader, Joey Gibson, is facing a felony riot charge stemming from a case last year.

And another national group we've seen over the years is the Proud Boys, a self-described Western chauvinist group that is more widely known. They've also engaged in violence at protests here in Portland. Most recently, the week before last, there was an open brawl between pro-Trump, pro-police demonstrators, many of whom were armed and anti-fascist counterprotesters in downtown Portland. And it's important to note that that brawling went on - I mean, it just went wild for a couple of hours without any response from Portland police. So going into this weekend, people were on edge.

INSKEEP: And then we had the events of this weekend. We want to note briefly that President Trump leaped on this. He attacked the mayor in an early morning tweet. He also threw in attacks on Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, who - just as a matter of fact-checking - we'll note were not in Portland at the time. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has responded. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TED WHEELER: You've tried to divide us more than any other figure in modern history, and now you want me to stop the violence that you helped create.

INSKEEP: So there is a national debate here. But what, Conrad, is the local debate right now?

WILSON: Well, understandably, many people here are unhappy. Just before the news conference, some groups called on the mayor and the police chief to resign - that, you know, there have been a constituency of people that have repeated that throughout, really, these 90-plus days of protests. You know, they say that the police chief and the mayor let the protests get out of control during the last several weeks, which created an environment where this shooting could take place.

INSKEEP: Conrad, thanks for the update and for the facts.

WILSON: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: Conrad Wilson of Oregon Public Broadcasting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.