Video footage and photos of the rightwing activist aiding officers fuel debate over the policing of a recent alt-right demonstration
A rightwing protester who was filmed helping law enforcement in Portland arrest an anti-fascist activist has been identified as a member of a patriot movement militia-style group.
Todd Kelsay confirmed he was the man captured in photographs and video assisting three officers from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as they pinned down and apprehended the masked protester.
The footage, which shows Kelsay kneeling alongside the DHS officers, and then removing cuffs from the back of one officer, has fueled debate over the policing of the event last Sunday.
A separate photograph shows Kelsay, wearing a camouflage helmet and body armour, and the yellow tape that the events private security force was using to identify itself on the day, grabbing the unidentified protester by the scruff of the neck.
Kelsay told the Guardian the officer asked him to help him with his cuffs. It was a kind of spur of the moment thing, he said. When they go to put the cuffs on, the cuffs were around the back. And [the officer] did ask: get the cuffs off my back. And I did so, and I handed them to him.
The incident is now under review by the US attorneys office.
Kelsays Facebook presence indicates he is closely-aligned with a Portland-based group calling itself the American Freedom Keepers.
The group appears to have traveled to so-called free speech rallies across the country, including in New York City, New Orleans, and Boston, events that have become renowned for confrontations with anti-fascist protesters.
Such rallies, which echo clashes that have taken place on the campus of UC Berkeley this year, appear to be proliferating across the country, setting up sometimes violent confrontations between alt-right and pro-Trump groups on one hand, and anti-fascists and other left-wing counter-protesters on the other.
Portlands rally last weekend was especially controversial as it occurred in the wake of a double-murder in the city allegedly enacted by a white supremacist, Jeremy Christian, who had attended at least one of the events.
Further confrontations are expected this weekend, with national anti-Sharia protests and leftwing counter-protests expected in Seattle and other cities.
Kelsay did not directly refer to the American Freedom Keepers during a brief interview but said he was a member of a little group that has traveled extensively to act as a meat fence at public events involving confrontations between left and rightwing groups. I went there for the protection of the public.
He distanced himself from the racist and white supremacist elements that have been attracted to the rallies. I am a conservative, and a constitutionalist, and I believe in the first amendment entirely. He said he was not armed at the rally but was wearing body armor because at similar events he has been struck with sticks, and bats, and flying objects [and] rocks.
Rod Sperling, director of communications for Federal Protective Services, a police division at the DHS said the agency was acting within its scope in policing the rally, but offered no further comment citing the ongoing investigation. The alt-right rally was held on federal property in Terry Schrunk Plaza. Portland police bureau were also deployed on site, and in surrounding blocks where three separate counter-protests confronted the rally.
Mat dos Santos, legal director at ACLU of Oregon, criticised the incident, saying that cooperation with one side of a volatile protest demonstrated the different ways that law enforcement engages with people who look and act like them, and people and communities who dont look and act like them.
If the security detail at the event were not licensed, he said, it potentially breached Oregon law. He added that in a state with active militia groups, police cooperation with one side might embolden self-proclaimed militia to begin engaging in more routine LEO-like [law enforcement-like] activities. I think thats dangerous.
The controversy over Kelsays facilitation of the arrest comes in the wake of concerns the Portland police bureaus handling of Sundays rally.
Complaints have focused on the bureaus attempt to clear Chapman Square, in downtown Portland directly north of Schrunk Plaza, of anti-fascist counter-protesters. The department said at the time it had used less-than-lethal munitions to clear the area in response to a significant amount of projectiles being thrown.
Protesters in Chapman Square have relayed a different version of events, claiming the push from police occurred without provocation. A protester with the Black Rose Anarchist Federation, who only gave his name as Elliot, said he and others were hit by rubber bullets allegedly fired by police.
I was right up in front and in the middle of the park when the police were charging us. They said they were revoking the permit and shutting down the protest in the park and that everyone had to leave, he said. We were all pretty confused about that.
Another, protester Charles Eberhardt, said that after protesters left the square, some improvised a march in surrounding streets. That marched for a few blocks, but then cops blanked the march and blocked it in. Basically they detained everyone in our group for an hour or so.
Portlands police department did not respond to multiple requests for comment about their handling of the rally and counter-protest.