On August 22nd last year, roughly three hundred far-right activists showed up to a protest in downtown Portland. Their ranks included Proud Boys, as well as members of Patriot Coalition and Patriot Prayer. The event was billed as a “Back the Blue” rally in front of the city’s Justice Center, which had been a focal point for months of anti-police brutality demonstrations.
Some among the hundreds of right-wing attendees open-carried firearms, brought shields adorned with QAnon slogans and wielded hand-held weapons. These included batons, baseball bats and bear mace, a particularly volatile form of pepper spray originally designed to protect campers from grizzly bear attacks. Violent clashes with left-wing counter-protesters ensued (one of the authors of this article had his hand broken after being assaulted by a Proud Boy while reporting on the protest).
Alan Swinney, a towering 50-year-old man popular in the crowd of far-right activists was filmed and photographed in the thick of the action that day. Swinney has “Proud Boy” tattooed on his right arm, although the Proud Boys deny he is affiliated with their organization. Video footage shows Swinney barking orders at the crowd while a reporter from Oregon Public Broadcasting tweeted a video he said showed Swinney shooting into the crowd with a paintball gun.
Swinney was later photographed drawing his side arm and pointing it at protesters with his finger visible on the trigger. While police stayed several blocks away, there were multiple injuries in a brawl that went on for more than an hour. Eventually, left-wing counter-protesters assembled and advanced on the far-right crowd, forcing them out of downtown Portland. At the end of it all, one activist found a GoPro camera on the ground and picked it up. In an effort to find out who had lost their camera, they downloaded the videos that were saved on the device. These turned out to be videos that appeared to have been filmed by Alan Swinney, identifiable in the footage by his voice, his face, and when associates say his name.
Swinney was not filming on August 22nd, but had been recording during many other rallies, and during conversations with other activists, in the weeks and months prior. These videos, which the individual who found the GoPro subsequently posted to YouTube, appear to show that Swinney and his associates planned for violence in advance, often discussed potential attacks on antifascist demonstrators and spoke about how to fundraise for and distribute weapons.
There are 12 videos in total. While all were uploaded to YouTube in September last year, they have remained unreported on until now.
Swinney is currently incarcerated after being charged as a result of his alleged actions on August 22nd and at an earlier rally on August 15. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts, which include assault, attempted assault and unlawful use of a weapon. Bellingcat reached out to the lawyers representing Swinney to ask for comment on the GoPro videos and the details contained within this article but did not receive a response before publication.
The first five videos seem to have been recorded by accident, perhaps from within a backpack as evidenced by a black screen and persistent rustling sound. These five videos are dated to 2017. Although given the topics discussed within them, which seem to coincide with events that occurred in 2020, it would appear that stated the date is incorrect. For example, Swinney makes mention of how he dislikes people wearing masks while he and an associate can be heard ordering food at a restaurant in the first video (Video one, 30:27). This appears to be a reference the Covid-19 pandemic. On later videos, the date appears to have been updated and is set to 2020. Events detailed within these videos also appear to coincide with protests that occurred at this time.
In the first five videos, Swinney can be heard in conversation with a handful of people that it is not possible to clearly identify. The audio appears to have been captured after one of their “flag waving” events and, as the topic of conversation seems to suggest, several days before another such gathering at the Justice Center in Portland. These events generally involve a small group of demonstrators gathering somewhere prominent to wave flags and have previously ended with them getting into fights with counter-protesters.
In Video three, Swinney and his comrades can be heard discussing their plans to handle the counter-protesters they assume will be there.
“Everybody needs to have their cameras rolling in case anyone gets an assault just like yell out ‘got one’…we need to make sure we’ve got assaults on video. I mean, if it’s a crazy assault, then yeah, first, yeah we go first…come on down with a stick,” explains Swinney (Video three, 7:05). “If we’ve got it [an assault] on video and stuff and we know we got it on video and we have several on video then nothing is going to happen because we just show the judge the video. ‘Look, this assault happened, this assault happened, this assault happened. And that’s why she got involved.’” (Video three, 8:33)
Over years of dueling rallies in Portland, far-right protesters have often claimed violent incidents they become involved in are matters of self-defense. Left-wing counter-protesters have argued that the far-right demonstrators usually come with weapons and attack without cause. There appears to be more evidence of the latter in the GoPro footage. In one video Swinney discusses crowd- funding money for bear mace, which he hopes to use on antifascists.
“I think the best way to do that bear mace is like, to pass them out and whoever needs that bear mace just hand me their license, I’ll pass you out a bear mace. That way whoever’s license I still got at the end of the day owes me some bear mace. It’s like $42 a can. That’s like $500 worth of bear mace. It’s worth every penny when you get to spray Antifa with it,” says Swinney (Video one,19:43), He continues: “Yeah, because I sprayed that one can and that got me ten cans. People like knowing that something they donated for is the reason why those Antifa are laying on the ground and choking. They get a lot of satisfaction knowing they were responsible for that pain. There’s not too many places where you can donate and Antifa will directly feel it.”
In the past, Swinney has run multiple fundraisers for weapons, gear and to pay for travel to different protest events across America in order to confront antiracist and antifascist activists. Swinney has used the funding website Fundly on a few occasions. More recently, he has turned to the pages of “American Wolf,” a far right group based out of Olympia, Washington, that also used Fundly to raise money for accused teenage Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse. The Rittenhouse fundraiser was eventually taken down, and American Wolf have moved to crowdfunding for Rittenhouse on their own website and transferring funds through Paypal.
Swinney’s fundraiser on American Wolf’s website currently sits at nearly $1,500. The items Swinney claims the fundraiser will help purchase include “cameras, helmets, eye protection, vests, shields, personal defense spray, paint markers, and boots: all of which are commonly ruined or stolen in the heat of battle and expensive to replace.” On Parler, a Twitter clone mostly used by members of the far right, Swinney boasted about his “upgrades” ahead of a rally he intended to attend, while picturing a paintball gun and mask, alongside his old helmet.
In one video, Swinney appears to discuss a potential plot to lure out counter-demonstrators, perhaps leading to a violent conflict that he believes would justify the use of force.
“We need to scout the area. Next time I’ll wander around a little bit. I’ll hang out there like a worm. Bait. I’ll be out there by myself. They’ll think “ooh he’s out there by himself, let’s go get him!” Swinney then laughs before continuing: “I still got a gun. I still got mace. I still got a pole. [They will] have little round bruises all over their bodies the next morning, poke them with that flagpole,” says Swinney (Video three, 3:32) to a woman who laughs. “If they start shooting my way, they aren’t going to hit me on the first one… I’m gonna return the fire,” he says several minutes later (Video three, 13:29), before referring to a hypothetical headline that would appear after this conflict, saying “three Antifa members killed.”
In Video 10, Swinney can be seen joining a crowd of around thirty right-wing marchers in Seattle, Washington, on the 4th of July. Downtown Seattle is visible in the clip (video geolocated here) while mention is made of the city and the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (renamed the Capitol Hill Organized Protest), which was a protest space created as part of 2020’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations. As the crowd gets closer to counter-protesters, Swinney begins pulling out what appear to be pepper spray canisters and handing them to attendees.
“Y’all got mace?…Before you start hitting them, spray them with this,” says Swinney (Video 10, 9:32) as he hands a can of mace to a man to his left. This individual, who responds that he will handle counter protesters with his fists, appears to have an “88” tattoo on his right arm. The letter “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet, and 88 signifies”HH,” “Heil Hitler,” in the white power movement.
“I’d appreciate if y’all get those back to me at the end of this and I’ll hand them out at the next one too,” Swinney says (Video 10, 9:44) before handing another can to a second man.
Directly after this interaction, Swinney is approached by a man who appears to hand a pistol to Swinney’s right, just off camera (Video 10, 10:25). The group then has an altercation with a small number of counter-protesters. This interaction remains non-violent, despite Swinney threatening that counter-demonstrators could get “blasted,” although he does not specify with what (Video 10, 11:50). A few moments later Swinney tells the man who had previously approached him with the gun to “take this shit cause that’s concealed (Video 10, 16:36).” The man then appears to take possession of the same gun just off camera before placing it in the waistband of his jeans. From the footage, it is not entirely clear whether Swinney’s comments about the weapon being concealed related to it being carried on his own person or another individual very close nearby.
The state of Washington, where the situation detailed in this video was captured, recognizes the concealed carry permits of nine other states. It is not clear if Swinney is resident in any of these states, has residency in Washington or whether he had sought a license to carry a concealed weapon while there. We asked the lawyers representing Swinney whether he had been carrying a concealed weapon in Washington or whether he had a right to carry a concealed weapon in the state but did not receive a response before publication.
After police arrive, Swinney approaches two masked people standing nearby with their dog. When one of them holds up her coffee cup to block Swinney’s cell phone camera, he says “You take that lid off and throw that coffee on me I’m gonna blast you with it” (Video 10, 21:36). He then holds up what appears to be a bear spray canister (Video 10, 22:20) so it is visible on video. Swinney then readies the canister and holds it in front of the camera as he walks
around. He does this again (Video 10, 38:48) as a larger group of counter-demonstrators comes nearby later in their march, and keeps the can in his hand as he argues and points at protesters (Video 11, 5:59).
“I have no problem spraying you with mace. You saying you are gonna slap the shit out of me and walking over here, she’s threatening me,” Swinney says (Video 11, 6:28) as he raises the can at a woman arguing with him in, before a police officer intervenes and Swinney is allowed to walk away.
Paranoia about Antifa has long appeared common in right wing patriot groups and Swinney can be heard discussing the perceived threat on a number of occasions. In Video two, Swinney ruminates about hypothetical “Antifa attack” scenarios (Video two, 35:54), such as how he would defend himself if “Antifa” attacked him while he was camping.
‘I can talk to all the cops into letting all of us go’
In several of the conversations captured on the tapes, Swinney and his associates make the claim that the police are supportive of them. In Video eight, Swinney appears to lead a group of far-right demonstrations on a night time patrol looking for protesters. They begin with a prayer and then walk from the east side of the city to downtown in search of a Black Lives Matter demonstration.
“My favorite way to go to a rally is to take a Lyft and have them drop you off right at the rally. That’s my favorite way to do it. You just get them to drop you off by the first group of cops,” says Swinney (Video eight, 15:37) while walking.
“Is it bad that I have a felony warrant in Portland?,” one of his entourage asks (Video eight, 4:27), perhaps rhetorically.
“I feel pretty confident I can talk to all the cops into letting all of us go,” says Swinney (Video eight, 5:08).
In an earlier video, Swinney discusses that he thinks police are now more friendly to people in his situation.
“I just know how things would have been five or six years ago if I had tried walking around on the street with a pistol on my hip. Cops would be all over me six years ago,” says Swinney (Video one, 7:55).
Bellingcat reached out to the Portland Police about the comments Swinney made about lenient police treatment of right wing demonstrators. A representative responded: “All individuals, no matter what affiliation they side with at the demonstrations, are subject to arrest if they break the law.”
In Video 10, Swinney and his colleagues chant “Blue Lives Matter” (Video 10, 17:58) as the police arrive, and they spend time chatting with the officers and commending them on their service. “Cops appreciate the support. They feel comfortable with us,” says Swinney (Video 10, 19:33).
On the Streets
In Video eight, which is listed on the timecode as June 1st, Swinney leads a group of almost a dozen people to enter what they believe to be a left-wing protest space. After beginning with a prayer, the group heads into downtown Portland. One attendee says that he has brought “zip-ties” (Video eight, 25:03), similar to plastic restraints often used by police as an alternative to handcuffs when they are arresting large numbers of people. It is unclear what he intends to use the zip-ties for. Another shows that he is wearing IIIA rated bullet-proof body armor under his clothes. One member says that they had done these sorts of patrols the “last couple of nights” (Video eight, 23:44).
As they get closer to where they believe the protests will be held, one member of the group says “everybody get a partner” (Video #8, 31:18). A few seconds later, that same person then says: “Everybody pick a battle buddy!” (Video #8, 31:24) People pair up in what appears to be a preparation for possible confrontations with protesters. This seems to have also been the intention with their 4th of July Seattle protest, where they said they were heading in the direction of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) with the idea that they might see counter-protesters who they blamed for supposed violence in the area. News site, The Daily Kos, reported that this protest was intended to counter a CHAZ march that Swinney and his crowd believed was going to take place but never did.
The videos also show Swinney confronting left-wing protesters and saying: “I wish the left was as concerned about condoms as they are masks (Video 10, 33:10),” and “fuck off tubby” (Video 10, 35:11) to one nearby counter-demonstrator. He asks a black protester how “long were you a slave” (Video 10, 41:24) and then says “black crime matters, bro” (Video 11, 0:46).
When approached by two black women at the Seattle protest, Swinney deflects an accusation of racism saying: “I got black friends, with me right now!… no, I don’t like all black people. I hate the shitty ones” (Video #11, 2:50).
Alan Swinney was arrested on September 30 for a 12-count indictment issued on September 11, 2020, stemming from his actions from the August 22 rally and at a Black Lives Matter demonstration on August 15. These charges include the pointing a firearm at another person, assault, attempted assault and unlawful use of a weapon. Swinney was also named in a million dollar lawsuit for his role in attacks on protesters on August 22, who report serious injuries, including being hit by bear mace. Swinney has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Bellingcat reached out to Alan Swinney’s legal representatives at the Oliveros Law Group but, as of publication, had not received a response.
Nearly $5,000 has been raised for Swinney to cover legal fees. It appears the fundraiser is being headed up by far right activist Dixie Bailey on the “Give Send Go: #1 Free Christian Fundraising Site.”
After being denied release by judge Greg Silver, Swinney is still being held in custody on a reported cash bail of $534,000. Deputy District Attorneys Leslie Wu and Nathan Vasquez argued that “[Swinney’s] willingness repeatedly to attend Portland protests while armed will not suddenly dissipate upon release. Social media posts by Defendant himself display his belief that violence is the appropriate response to the protests occurring in Portland.”