Awareness, Assessment, Avoidance, Action: Analysis of a Riot (Part 1)

Awareness, Assessment, Avoidance, Action: Analysis of a Riot (Part 1)

All Things Possible went to check out the protests and riots in Portland last summer. A friend of ours is a freelance journalist that usually travels the world covering violence and unrest that seems to be a staple in too many foreign countries. He has had no shortage of work around the globe but rarely is he doing stories right here in the U.S. After nearly two months of violence erupting in downtown Portland, Oregon, he was assigned to head there and report on what he saw. He asked if I would like to accompany him as (1) a set of eyes that could help him keep situational awareness through the chaos, (2) assist as needed with videographer support as well as if we needed to defend ourselves from any threats that we could not de-escalate and (3) just to see the situation for myself. I was interested in assisting him for all three reasons and to get the ground truth of what was happening there and run it through the ATP process of – Awareness, Assessment, Avoidance, Action.


If you are not familiar with the situation, Black Lives Matter had been organizing protests in Portland, in front of the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse that is right next to three open space green parks (Lownsdale Square, Chapman Square, and Terry Schrunk Plaza) for about two months straight. At some point, Federal Law Enforcement received credible information that Antifa was going to hijack the BLM protests and use the cover of the protest to burn down the Federal Courthouse. A combination of the mandated responsibility to defend federal party coupled with the overburdened Portland Police Bureau, the decision was made to send Federal Law Enforcement to secure and defend the courthouse from attack and destruction. The presence of Federal LE seemed to heighten the tensions and from their first night in Portland, the protests devolved deeper into lawlessness and violence. At the time of this writing, the overall trend over the past few days at the Hatfield Federal Courthouse is diminishing violence. Sunday night, 02August, marked the first night in over 60 days during which rioters did not attack federal property in Portland.

Portland Riots
Photo Credit: PMG Photo: Jonathan House


I arrived in Portland late in the afternoon and found a place to park only a few blocks from my friend’s hotel where I was meeting him. To my surprise, there was plenty of parking available, but something didn’t seem right. As soon as I pulled into the nearly empty lot, I was “welcomed” by two young men shooting up drugs in the car next to me. I looked at them and they smiled.

I just smiled back.

Downtown Portland usually looks pretty beat, but what I saw very closely resembled the wartorn countries I have spent nearly half of my life in. As I got nearer to the courthouse, more and more buildings were boarded up and graffiti was scrawled onto just about everything. There were vandalized and burned out cars sitting where they had been parked by unsuspecting citizens, and I quickly realized that I would need to move my vehicle before the sun went down. The open drug use and the amount of people lying around in the park was high, even for Portland standards. When I met my friend, he confirmed that we needed to move my vehicle quickly and that everything in this multi- block radius was likely to get destroyed. As we were moving my vehicle to a safe distance, he explained to me how the night would unfold.

At nightfall, between 9:00- 9:30pm, people would begin to mass on the parks in front of the courthouse and begin their protests. These peaceful protests would continue until about 10:30 pm and then you would observe the Antifa people arriving, bringing with them shields, combustibles, rocks, bricks, frozen water bottles, and various fireworks and incendiary devices. They arrived in full kit, prepared to scrap with whomever got in their way. They were well equipped with radios for communication, helmets, and full faced military grade protective masks.

The protest crowd was centered on Terry Schrunk Plaza with a makeshift stage in front of the Wells Fargo building where the speakers ranged from seemingly genuine interest in creating effective change and improvement to riling up the crowd in preparation for transitioning to a violent riot.

Around 10pm, right on cue, the “Wall of Moms” marched from their place of honor in the front of the crowd and down to line up behind the barrier that separated the Federal Courthouse from the masses. The crowd separated and made a gap all down 3rd Street so the “Wall of Moms” could get into place.

Nobody really seemed to notice the two of us. We were a little older than most of the crowd but with COVID masks on, we were fairly non-descript. My friend warned me that once the violence started, the crowd and the leaders in the crowd became a little more paranoid and my friend had been accused of being a cop there to photograph the rioters the previous nights. He tried to dress “not like a cop” and carry himself “not like a cop”. However, with his haircut and his posture, he looked like a cop. Nobody seemed to mind. At first.

I asked him what the point of “Wall of Moms” was and he explained to me that they were there to block the view and direct access to the protestors, soon to be rioters, from the Federal LE agents, and the surveillance cameras. They provided a human shield so protestors could escalate their violence against the Federal Courthouse with impunity.

A young woman nearby overheard his characterization and wanted to make it clear to both of us that we had it 180 degrees wrong. The “Moms” were there to protect the protestors from the unlawful attacks of the Federal LE officers.

It was at that moment that it sunk into me for a second time in a matter of an hour that there were two very opposing views of this whole thing. One based on emotion and zero critical reason and thought, completely clouded by hate and anger and another based on logic, reason and controlled emotion.

There did not seem to be any chance of finding common ground with the enraged crowd.

The first time it sunk in for me that night was when one of the speakers on stage began to lead the crowd of about 5,000 people in a slow sing song chant of “Hands up don’t shoot me”. It really sounded nice and the crowd held up their cell phones and swayed back and forth. It could have been a nice moment except for one thing- the “Hands up don’t shoot me” event never actually happened. The myth began back in 2014 with the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. It was debunked a long time ago.

But I guess that is an irrelevant point to many.

The unity and the quiet singing really were moving. But it also scared me to how little the facts are regarded when it comes to this movement.

The peaceful protesting began to wane, and the crowd was starting to get more riled up and agitated.

The protestors, slowly turning into rioters began throwing smoke bombs and other incendiary devices over the heads of the “Moms” and into the space between the fence barrier and the courthouse itself. Photographers rushed to the scene and began taking photos of the “Moms” enveloped in the smoke. The next day headlines would read that the Feds gassed the “Moms”.

This simply did not happen.

The photos show the smoke billowing behind them that was thrown by the rioters. The Federal Agents had not even shown themselves yet. They were still deep inside the Federal courthouse somewhere.

Did I forget to mention that nearly all of the photographers and press people were from Russia and Eastern Europe?

I did not hear any instructions but as the violence began to build, the “Moms” quietly walked away and now the front line was replaced by the hardcore rioters.

This is when the full attack on the courthouse began. Almost like clockwork each night around 10:30-11 PM.

The rioters would begin to attack the fence trying to tear it down and throw flammable items over the fence lighting fires between the fence and the courthouse building.

The Federal Agents would announce over a loudspeaker that the crowd was deemed to be unlawful and would need to disperse. This was stated at least a dozen times, but it only seemed to agitate the crowd further.

As the violence was growing, we started to get challenged as to who we were and why we were there. We told them the truth, that we were freelance journalists, but because we did not give them our names, they remained suspicious.

When confronted, we would de-escalate and move to another area.

The time interval between rioters challenging us and confronting us got shorter and the people were getting more emboldened, pulling down our COVID face masks and taking pictures of our faces. They were trying to tie us to some conservative news outlet or prove we were cops. They were trying to dox us.

They were able to dox a young African American male named, Andrew Duncomb, who goes by the moniker of Black Rebel. We heard the crowd yelling that there was a Trump supporter and a group tightened around Mr. Duncomb and pinned him against the fence. We thought that he might be in trouble and moved closer to him. While we were not all that interested in physically defending Black Rebel, we were prepared to if needed.

An important point to note is that I had made the decision to not carry a concealed weapon into this mob. I left it in the hotel, and we decided that our course of action would be to deescalate and break contact, fight if necessary and continue to break contact. I was not interested in this night becoming lethal while keeping in mind, it is never a winning strategy to try to fight 10 people at once.

With a quick search on Black Rebel, it appears as if he is martial arts trained and even has an MMA fight or two under his belt. The crowd didn’t seem to be getting too angry with him and we continued to move.

Andrew Duncomb was stabbed that night when leaving the riots, nearly in front of the hotel we were staying at.

I’ll talk more about that incident and continue with Assessment, Avoidance, and Action in the next post.

What we ask you to do is take a look at the media reporting of this event at the end of July and compare it with what I just described and also with the official report that the Department of Homeland Security releases daily.

Portland Riots Read Out – DHS

Bottom line: The violent situation Portland has witnessed for the past eight weeks continues with violent anarchists rioting on the streets as federal law enforcement officers work diligently and honorably to enforce federal law, defend federal property, and protect the lives of their fellow officers.

In response to nightly attempts to raze and damage the Hatfield Federal Courthouse, DHS made the decision last week to put up a stronger fence around the building’s perimeter. While more secure fencing has kept much of the criminal violence away from the courthouse itself, it has now become a consistent target of the rioters, who constantly are trying to tear it down with ropes, saws, hammers, bolt cutters, and power tools.

As federal officers left the courthouse to respond to attacks on the fence, just like on previous nights they were met by rioters with hard projectiles, mortar style fireworks and lasers that can cause permanent blindness. Over the previous 24 hours, such assaults have resulted in at least 14 federal officers injured.

The past 24 hours: Initially, Portland Police Bureau’s (PPB) North Portland Police Precinct was believed to be a main target of activity last night. PPB officers appeared in front of the precinct building in protective gear early in the evening as a large crowd assembled there.

9:36 PM

4,000-5,000 individuals had gathered around the courthouse.

10:40 PM

Violent actors began to try and cut the fence protecting the courthouse perimeter, as they have attempted every night since it was erected. Federal officers were forced to use pepper balls to repel the attempts and prevent further damage to federal property. Rioters initially stopped their attack on the fence but quickly returned with shields to continue.

10:55 PM

Officers were once again forced to go outside the courthouse in order to stop the attempts to cut the fence.

11:04 PM

Rioters began to launch the first mortar firework attacks of the evening against the courthouse and federal officers.

11:08 PM

An unknown chemical was sprayed on an FPS officer and other officers were assaulted with hard projectiles from the crowd.

11:19 PM

FPS declared an unlawful assembly.

11:21 PM

Federal officers came under heavy laser attack from rioters. Around this time, rioters also launch a roughly 10-minute-long continuous firework attack against the courthouse. The crowd size was reported to be approximately 5,000 to 6,000 individuals around this time.

11:28 PM

An individual drove a car up to the fence perimeter and parked next to it. Rioters began to throw smoke bombs into the fence perimeter.

11:53 PM

At least one power tool reportedly was being used to cut through the fence.

12:00 AM

Around midnight local time crowds began to converge on the parks in the vicinity of the federal building, as PPB reported damage to multiple storefronts in the path of the crowds. Rioters started to throw explosive devices at the fence perimeter and, in addition to the use of saws and power tools, began to try and hammer bolts off the fence.

12:26 AM

A federal officer was injured after being hit by hard projectiles the rioters had thrown.

12:32 AM

Violent actors attached ropes to the fence in yet another effort to tear it down. After that rope snapped, they brought out a bigger rope to continue the destructive effort.

12:49 AM

Federal officers issued several warnings to the crowd to disperse.

12:54 AM

A rioter was able to peel back part of a fence panel that had been cut through.

1:09 AM

Rioters managed to tear down a section of the fence.

1:11 AM

PPB declared this situation to be a riot. Federal officers began to repel rioters who were inflicting on the officers heavy fire through mortar-style fireworks and to push them away from the courthouse. Following the riot declaration, PPB also helped federal officers clear the area as both made multiple arrests.

2:05 AM

Two weed sprayers filled with an unidentified liquid were found in a nearby park; HAZMAT was called.

3:10 AM

Federal officers began to return to the courthouse. There were still a couple hundred individuals gathered in the vicinity.

The night’s violence resulted in at least 14 new injuries to federal officers. One FPS officer was injured from a thrown hard projectile; injuries include a laceration on his arm and bruises to his arm. The officer received treatment from a medic and returned to defend the courthouse.

DHS officers conducted 6 arrests for assaulting federal officers and 2 arrests for failure to comply with lawful orders.


Help us write more stories, like this one.


Stay connected with our work around the world.