Among the estimated 230,000 protesters that turned of for today’s anti-extradition protest in Kowloon was at least one very unexpected presence: American right-wing activist Joey Gibson.
Gibson, founder of the far-right group Patriot Prayer, which was involved in violent clashes in Portland, Oregon last month with the self-styled “anti-fascist” group Antifa, was broadcasting today’s anti-extradition rally on Facebook Live along with a female companion.
Gibson’s associate can be heard repeatedly marveling at the size of the crowd, and praising their love of freedom.
“People like it,” the woman says of an American flag being displayed by Gibson. “They’re all thanking us for being here.”
She then shouts “whooooo!” before attempting to start a “free Hong Kong” chant.
Fans on the Patriot Prayer Facebook page lauded the duo as “amazing and so courageous,” while others said of the protesting Hongkongers: “Wow. They love America.” (Because, right, that’s what this is all about.)
Local Twitter user @HongKongHermit, who has extensively documented the past month’s protests in lengthy Twitter threads, accused the duo of “trying to co-opt the protest for their own propaganda purposes.” He also detailed what he said was an encounter with the duo, in which they defended their right to protest alongside Hongkongers and at one point initated an impromptu “free Hong Kong” chant.
There are two America Patriot Prayer fascists in the crowd waving a flag, trying to co-opt the protest for their own propaganda purposes. Apparently by calling them fascists and saying they are not welcome I support Communist China.
— Hong Kong Hermit (@HongKongHermit) July 7, 2019
In a video of the encounter, after the pair are told they are “not welcome,” Gibson’s companion repeatedly shouts, “You’re a communist! You’re a communist!”
Gibson’s group has a controversial, if complicated reputation in the US. While it publicly disavows white nationalism and the so-called alt-right, Patriot Prayer rallies have attracted those elements in the past. Critics, meanwhile, have said that the more mainstream ideas Gibson purports to espouse in media interviews are very different from those he promotes at his rallies.
Gibson, who made an unsuccessful bid for a US Senate seat last year, is also at the center of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit accusing him and his followers of inciting violence after Patriot Prayer members came to confront purported members of Antifa — which has its own colorful track record — at a Portland bar.
Local Oregon newspaper Willamette Week revealed just two days ago that Gibson will be defended in that case by the chair of the Multnomah County Republican Party.
Gibson has previously been revealed to have a cozy relationship with members of the Portland, Oregon police department. In February, the mayor of Portland demanded an investigation after hundreds of text messages between Gibson and a police lieutenant came to light.