The chats on the GroupMe app, shared with The Guardian by the antifascist group Eugene Antifa, show conversations between Oregon members of the Patriots Coalition growing more extreme as they discuss armed confrontations with leftwing Portland activists, and consume a steady diet of online disinformation about protests and wildfires.
At times, rightwing activists discuss acts of violence at recent, contentious protests, which in some cases they were recorded carrying out.
At one point, David Willis, a felon currently being sued for his alleged role in an earlier episode of political violence, joins a discussion about the use of paintballs.
Where other members had previously suggested freezing the paintballs for maximum damage, Willis wrote, “They make glass breaker balls that are rubber coated metal. They also have pepper balls but they are about 3 dollars a ball. Don’t freeze paintballs it makes them wildly inaccurate” [sic.]
Willis did not immediately respond to voice and text messages sent to his listed cellphone number.
Another prolific poster is Mark Melchi, a 41-year-old Dallas, Oregon-based car restorer who claims to have served as a captain in the US Army.
Melchi has been recorded leading an armed pro-Trump militia, "1776 2.0" into downtown confrontations in Portland, including on August 22. At several points in the chat he proposes violence in advance of those confrontations, and appears to confess to prior acts committed in the company of his paramilitary group.
In advance of the August 22 protest, Melchi wrote, “It’s going to be bloody and most likely shooting, they’re definitely armed… so let’s make sure we have an organized direction of movement and direction of clearing or other Patriots will be caught in the possible cross fire. When shit hits the fan.”
He advised other members to ignore weapons statutes, writing, “I saw someone say bats, mace, and stun guns are illegal downtown. If you’re going to play by the books tomorrow night, we already lost. We are here to make a change, laws will be broken, people will get hurt… It’s lawlessness downtown, and people need to be prepared for bad things.”
Following these comments, several rightwing demonstrators were recorded using gas and bats on August 22, where Melchi and his militia were also present.
In other remarks ahead of the day, Melchi draws on what he claims is his group’s history of traveling to multiple states to engage in violence at protests.
“My Group 1776 2.0. Has been fighting Antifa in Seattle, Portland, for months”, Melchi writes, adding that “this won’t be a simple fist fight. People will get shot, stabbed and beat”.
He also claims police cooperation in interstate violence, writing, “Yes, going after them at night is the solution… Like we do in other states, tactical ambushes at night while backing up the police are key. You get the leaders and the violent ones and the police are happy to shut their mouths and cameras.”
Melchi nevertheless recommends that members disguise themselves to avoid the consequences of homicide.
“We must be ready to defend with lethal response… Suggest wearing mask and nothing to identify you on Camera…to prevent any future prosecution,” Melchi said.
In response to detailed questions about these contributions, Melchi responded with an email that falsely suggested his comments might have been photoshopped, and concluded with direct threats.
Melchi wrote, “I suggest you don’t threaten combat veterans sweetheart, might get a little uncomfortable for ya big guy!”
Melchi’s sentiments in the chat logs were in keeping with fantasies of, and plans for, violence, which are constantly discussed by group members.
Although some members are connected with extremist groups or militias, on the whole they describe themselves as “patriots”, and they express no clear ideology beyond a hatred of the left, and a preparedness to use violence. The shared allegiances expressed in the group are mostly to the police, the United States and Donald Trump, a person whom some say they are prepared to kill for.
Ahead of August 22, a user “Paige” says “I’m waiting for the presidential go to start open firing”.
Melchi, the militia leader, responds, “Well Saturday may be that go lol”.
Alex Newhouse, the digital research lead at the Center for Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute, said of the group that “the main mechanism that makes these communities so dangerous is the incessant desensitization to the idea of political violence”.
Newhouse noted that the ideas expressed in the group were entrenched in “extreme nationalism – that a few strong men with guns can together take out an evil that is at once imagined as an existential threat, and pathetically weak”.
Newhouse added that the group’s discussions “fit within a broader trend of rightwing extremists becoming more accelerationist over time”.
The chatlogs became fractious at the peak of Oregon’s recent wildfire emergency. While some members stated they had gone to rural areas to “hunt” imagined antifa arsonists, others became concerned about the dangers.
As early as September 9, the baseless idea that the fires were a coordinated arson attack was treated as settled fact, with Melchi writing, “People have officially died from these Antifa Fires. I’d shoot them on site” [sic], and another user, Dub, responding: “Yes sir if I see them they are getting dropped where they stand.”
When adverse consequences of vigilantism became evident, leadership attempted to bring the group back under control. After a member of the group reported that an associate had been arrested in Lane county for “holding [someone] at gunpoint”, the group’s administrator, who used the user name Patriot Coalition, wrote, “STOP HOLDING PEOPLE AT GUN POINT- STOP PULLING YOUR WEAPONS… VIDEO- TAKE PICTURES AND CALL 911."
Mary McCord is the legal director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law School, which on Wednesday released a series of fact sheets on anti-paramilitary laws in all 50 states.
Given details of the content of the chats, McCord said that “this is the kind of thing that might allow authorities to take action”, and that members of the group may “already be in violation of Oregon’s anti-paramilitary laws”.
The group also talked about coordinating at the rally with the Proud Boys, an extreme rightwing group. One user, identified as Bravo91 and a part of the group’s leadership, spoke of phone calls with the Proud Boys.
Along with antifascist demonstrators, Democratic politicians are also the target of violent fantasies in the chats. In particular, Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, is demonized and nominated as a possible target for assassination by the group.
On August 24, a user identified as “Trent-Medford” writes, “Fuck wheeler… guess what soon as we are done with these punks. He’s next freakin coward !!!!!!"
User T Durden went further. In response to news that an alleged arsonist had been released on bail, and without encountering disagreement, they wrote, “Maybe we need to start taking care of the justice ourselves!”, adding, “Start with justice on our DA and then move on to the governor. Maybe by the time we get to the first judge, they will have changed their tunes.”