Oregon Democrats are asking the Justice Department to investigate any criminal activity by the Proud Boys group in response to recent violence in Portland.
Sen. Jeff Merkley referred to the Proud Boys as domestic terrorists Wednesday after he led fellow members of the state’s congressional delegation in asking the Justice Department to investigate.
In a letter dated Tuesday, the four U.S. Senate and House members said violent confrontations between Proud Boys and counterprotesters have become “all-too-common” in Portland.
Portland has its share of Proud Boys members, although the lawmakers said local and out-of-state members alike have been frequently involved in the regular clashes occurring around town.
“It has become increasingly clear that the tactics of this group, and others like it, involve some members traveling across state lines with the intention of eliciting violent altercations with counter-protesters, sometimes with seemingly lethal intent,” Mr. Merkley and other Oregon Democrats wrote in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.
“We respectfully request that the Department of Justice open an investigation into interstate criminal activity and coordination between extremist groups across state lines with the intent to commit acts of violence in connection with recurring violent altercations in Portland,” Mr. Merkley, Sen. Ron Wyden and Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici wrote to President Biden’s attorney general.
The Justice Department did not immediately answer a request for comment.
Established in 2016, the Proud Boys has been described by its leaders as a fraternal group of “western chauvinists,” while critics have said its ranks are rife with racists and far-right extremists.
Proud Boys have fought with counter-protesters at demonstrations in several U.S. cities, including Portland, earning the group a reputation for violence.
In late 2020, for example, Proud Boys founder Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and several associates set fire to a “Black Lives Matter” sign that had been stolen from a historic Black church in the District of Columbia.
Several weeks later, on Jan. 6, multiple Proud Boys members from around the U.S. were spotted among the violent mobs of supporters of former President Trump who broke into the U.S. Capitol.
Numerous self-identifying Proud Boys caught on camera in or around the Capitol on Jan. 6 have been arrested on federal criminal charges ranging from trespassing to assault and conspiracy.
The government of Canada designated the Proud Boys to be a “terrorist entity” in May, citing the attack on the U.S. Capitol as one of the deciding factors in making the serious determination.
Despite being effectively banned north of the border — not to mention some members being jailed while awaiting trial for Capitol riot-related offenses — the Proud Boys have remained active.
Proud Boys and counter-protesters fought in broad daylight on the streets of Portland on Sunday, unfettered by any police, and much of the violence was captured by cameras and shared online.
“We are grateful that this most recent clash in Portland did not claim any lives, but like many others, we fear that it is only a matter of time before violence in Oregon escalates with deadly consequences unless we take the threat of domestic violent extremism seriously,” the lawmakers wrote to Mr. Garland. “We urge the Department to prioritize investigating the networks that exist across state lines to support and operationalize the violent intent of groups such as the Proud Boys and to radicalize and recruit people into their extremist and hateful ideologies. We are committed to providing the resources that the Department of Justice needs to combat domestic violent extremism, and we look forward to working with you on this matter.”
The letter asks that Mr. Garland respond by Sept. 10.