Fears of a confrontation were dispelled Sunday as political rallies for and against a conservative U.S. Senate candidate – whose staged events have drawn violent altercations in the past – went off without incident.
Joey Gibson, the Vancouver, Washington-based leader of the controversial Patriot Prayer group who recently announced his candidacy against Sen. Maria Cantwell, held a small rally in Spokane Valley’s Centerplace Event Center, where a group of about 40 people peacefully gathered to hear talking points on his platform.
At City Hall in downtown Spokane, several left-leaning groups held counterprotests, drawing about 50 people to march and rally outside on a chilly spring afternoon. Organizers said they made the decision not to protest at Gibson’s event so as to not risk a violent confrontation.
“I want to inspire Washington state,” Gibson told the crowd seated in a small room in the event center’s second floor. “To inspire people to believe in yourselves. It doesn’t matter who you are.”
On hand were several deputies with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. David Machado, Gibson’s head of security, said he made it a point to call for extra security, given the candidate’s history with clashes erupting at his rallies.
In Portland, Seattle and Berkeley, California, Gibson and Patriot Prayer have drawn the presence of alt-right members and white supremacists, including the group Identity Evropa, which has claimed credit for the recent round of racist flyers posted in downtown Spokane and around area colleges.
In response to these past appearances, members of Antifa, anti-fascists and anarchists have attended as well, and clashes have broken out as a result.
Jeremy Christian, the Portland man charged in the stabbing deaths of two men on the MAX train in December 2017, had a brief affiliation with Patriot Prayer. Christian allegedly screamed racist slurs at a pair of teenage girls (one wearing a hijab), and stabbed two men to death, injuring another, when the men attempted to protect the teens.
Gibson disavowed him after the Portland attack. Gibson did not, however, cancel a pro-Trump rally scheduled in the city the following week, and when it occurred, it drew a massive counterprotest. Several assaults were reported, and Portland police made 14 arrests, confiscating bricks, hammers, bats and sticks.
Gibson told the Spokane crowd he’s been maced a handful of times, and so has his staff.
Gibson has repeatedly criticized the rhetoric of various white-supremacist groups that have been drawn to his rallies, but continues to push for an extreme position on freedom of speech. At rallies in the past, and again on Sunday, Gibson reiterated that he believes the First Amendment is under attack by the left.
“There’s a battle going on for people’s minds,” he said. “And free speech is at the front line of this battle.”
At City Hall in Spokane, Joan Braune, a lecturer at Gonzaga and member of the Spokane Democratic Socialists of America, helped organize the counterprotest.
During the rally, a group of speakers talked about Gibson’s past political events
Braune told the crowd to question whether Gibson is sympathetic to white supremacists.
“He claims we’ve been smearing him as a white supremacist, but we’ve been very careful not to,” she said.
As for the crowd he drew to Spokane Valley during his first ever trip to the area, she dismissed it as an unlikely political bid.
“I don’t think he has a chance of winning,” she said.
Editors note: The story has been updated to remove incorrect information about a previous political rally in Richland, Washington.