Patriot Prayer’s pro-gun rally at Lower Columbia College went over peacefully Friday morning, despite some tense verbal exchanges between the group, a single counter-demonstrator and several onlookers.
LCC was one of the Vancouver-based protest group’s latest stops on its tour of Washington college campuses to oppose Initiative 1639, which would require enhanced background checks, waiting periods and increased age requirements for semiautomatic “assault” rifle ownership and secure gun storage for all firearms. Voters will decide on the measure in Tuesday’s general election.
“We are here today to stand up for our country, to stand up for our rights and to stand up for the Second Amendment,” said Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, one of four Patriot Prayer members to visit LCC Friday. “Rise up and let your voice be heard at the voting ballot. Tell them no more will we let you tread on our rights. No more will you infringe on our Second Amendment.”
Toese and Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson both delivered speeches before about 50 people who gathered near the college’s Rose Center for the rally. Gibson said he recognized only a few faces from past Patriot Prayer events in the crowd, which was made up primarily of community members with a smattering of LCC students.
Bearing a sign in protest of intolerance, Jon-Erick Hegstad of Longview peppered Toese and Gibson’s speeches with his own shouts and quips. “Hate has no home here,” and “I’m afraid of Nazis taking over my country,” he shouted.
“Whenever I hear lies and propaganda, I want to stand up to the truth,” Hegstad said after the rally ended. “We can’t move forward as a society until we agree upon a reality.”
Some of Patriot Prayer’s past events have ended in violent brawls between counter-protesters and group members, including a fight in Portland that involved bear spray, bare fists and batons, according to the Oregonian. However, its rallies at Washington State University Vancouver and Clark College remained civil, according to reports by the Vancouver Columbian.
At the LCC event, onlooker Justin Archer, an Army vet and Longview resident, said he agreed with Patriot Prayer’s Second Amendment messages, but he didn’t like the taunts and anger of some of the arguments.
“Everyone thinks they need to get into each others’ face. ... People just want to bump into each other and they can’t resist their animal instances of being aggressive sometimes,” Archer said. “I’m not going to be in that crowd bumping shoulders with people.”
Longview resident Bobby Schaffer waited until after the Patriot Prayer members left to get involved in the discussion. He sparred verbally with Hegstad for at least 15 minutes after crowd cleared.
Schaffer said Hegstad’s protests — and other labels used to identify Patriot Prayer members — painted the wrong picture of the group. They also drowned out a viable political perspective, Schaffer said.
“We’ve gotten to the point in this country where we want to shout at each other and call each other Nazis. ... It’s ‘Shut down your speech. I don’t want to hear you,’ ” Schaffer said.
“Let (Patriot Prayer) speak, challenge their ideas ... and then you have to be able to shake hands and agree to disagree.”
Gibson said he was pleased with the event and the discussions it sparked, and he was glad it showed that his group is not violent nature.
“We had some people who opposed me, which was good. But the cool thing was that this guy was being so disrespectful in the middle of all of us, but no one touches him, no violence,” Gibson said. “That’s the key. We respect people with differences of opinion, even if they are extremely annoying.”