U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Independent journalist assaulted, equipment damaged during Portland protest

Incident Details

August 22, 2021

Independent journalist Maranie Staab was assaulted multiple times and several pieces of her equipment were damaged while she was covering clashing demonstrations in Portland, Oregon, on Aug. 22, 2021.

Far-right demonstrators had planned for the “summer of love” protest in support of the “political prisoners” of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection to take place downtown, The Intercept reported, but had moved the location that morning to an abandoned Kmart parking lot in east Portland following the announcement of several counterprotests.

The Portland Police Bureau announced ahead of the dueling demonstrations that officers would not intervene in any resulting clashes.

“You should not expect to see police officers standing in the middle of the crowd trying to keep people apart,” Chief Chuck Lovell said in a statement. “People should keep themselves apart and avoid physical confrontation.”

Staab told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker she was covering the planned demonstration for the Russian video news agency Ruptly and had arrived at the demonstration before its 2:30 p.m. start. Staab said that approximately 200 demonstrators had gathered, and the general mood was calm as the crowd listened to speeches from a platform.

At around 4 p.m., Staab said, tensions rose when left-wing counterprotesters in black bloc arrived; far-right demonstrators began firing airsoft guns and antifascists responded with fireworks and clouds of mace.

Staab told the Tracker that when both sides fell back, many of the journalists present found themselves in the middle of a no-man’s land between the two groups.

“I was first sprayed with something from behind — I didn’t see the person so I only saw it in a video — with what I thought was WD-40,” Staab said, referring to a rust-prevention spray. “It definitely wasn’t mace. Someone else said it was hornet spray or wasp spray or something.”

Footage of the incident shows an individual quickly running past her and deliberately targeting her with the spray.

Not long after the initial attack, Staab said, an antifa protester approached her and began belittling her personally, accusing her of endangering the community with her recent trip to Colombia and calling her a “slut.”

“That group has never liked being documented. There’s been 10 to 15 that have been on the ground pretty consistently for the past year,” Staab said. “There are people that take particular issue with me.”

Staab said the demonstrator told her to stop filming the group, but she refused.

“Pretty immediately someone grabbed my cellphone out of my hand — it was on a little, small gimbal — threw it on the ground and smashed it,” Staab said. “Then someone pulled me down by my camera strap, which was on my right arm.”

Staab said when she tried to get up, individuals also threw a paint-filled balloon at her and maced her. Several other journalists then led Staab away from the counterprotesters and aided her in rinsing her eyes.

“It is only because of my colleagues that I got out of there OK,” Staab said.

Footage captured by News2Share co-founder Ford Fischer shows that while the journalists were helping Staab, another individual approached the group of journalists and sprayed them with purple paint. Some of the paint obscured Fischer’s lens, hindering his ability to continue covering events that day. The Tracker has documented his equipment damage here.

In Fischer’s footage, Staab’s press credential can be seen on a lanyard around her neck. Staab told the Tracker she sat on a curb for at least an hour to an hour and a half recovering from the mace before she was able to safely leave the area and return home.

In addition to the deliberate damage to her cellphone, Staab said the gimbal it was on is gone, her fall caused a crack in her camera lens and her Canon DSLR body was damaged by the paint balloon.

“This rounded out a year for me and others where we’ve been assaulted by the police, by persons on the right and now this,” Staab said. “To me this is really just an underscore of how dangerous this job has become.”

Staab told the Tracker she doesn’t intend to file a police report about the incidents.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].