A “Bill of Rights Bash” Saturday at the Longview Civic Circle will feature prominent speakers, including Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson, State Rep. Jim Walsh and Joey Gibson, leader of the controversial right-wing Patriot Prayer group.
According to a Facebook page for the event, the rally will “celebrate the American culture of freedom, brought to you by our Constitution and our Bill of Rights.” The event is organized by local political action committee Statesman’s Club, led by Kelso resident Kelburn Koontz. Koontz also organized a gun-rights rally at the Civic Circle in April.
Gibson and Patriot Prayer have recently been entangled in violent conflicts, most recently in Portland on Saturday, when the Vancouver-based activist group’s rally turned into a clash with anti-fascist groups. The ensuing chaos resulted in Portland Police declaring a riot, according to The Oregonian. Multiple people were sent to the hospital during the event.
Although Gibson has been accused of being a member of the alt-right, he has denied connection to that group and white supremacists. Gibson is also running for Maria Cantwell’s U.S. Senate seat.
In a Facebook conversation with The Daily News, Koontz said Gibson was a natural fit for his rally.
“Gibson is the most ardent defender of the First Amendment I have witnessed to date,” he wrote. “He puts his health, well-being and possibly his life on the line to exercise our rights of free speech, assembly and worship.”
Although Rep. Walsh said he was not aware that Gibson was speaking, he wasn’t concerned by the Patriot Prayer leader’s appearance in Longview.
“I’ve met Joey a couple of times, and I think his heart is in the right place,” the Aberdeen Republican said. “I think he gets into confrontations a little more than I would ... (but) I think he means well.”
Longview City Councilwoman MaryAlice Wallis said she was excited for the rally, saying “it’s kind of a non-partisan thing. It’s an American thing.”
Wallis said she was also unaware of Gibson’s planned appearance.
Koontz said he wasn’t worried about the potential for a riot, as in Portland last weekend.
“I am not concerned about Patriot Prayer rioting since that is not what they do,” he said.
“I suppose there’s always the risk, but it’s a different place, it’s a different vibe,” he said. “Longview is not Portland.”
Longview Police Detective Sergeant Chris Blanchard said there won’t be any police presence at the rally, but officers will ready to assist if any violence breaks out.
“We’ll assess the need as it arises,” he said. “Hopefully it doesn’t arise.”
The event will run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Other speakers include Deputy Sheriff Brad Thurman, who is also running for Cowlitz County Sheriff; Lacey state representative candidate Allen Acosta; Deputy Sheriff Nate Hockett; former Cowlitz County commissioner candidate Kevin Hunter; recent Mark Morris High School grad Spencer Boudreau; and Matt Marshall, associated with pro-second amendment group the Three Percenters.