Caesar the “Lama Without Drama” Brings Lighthearted Moments to Portland Anti-Racist Protests


The protests in Portland, Oregon are anything but calm – but one friendly and hazy participant is creating little moments of respite amid the chaos.Caesar the “lama without drama” has become a staple of Black Lives Matter’s protests against racism and police brutality, which have been taking place every night for nearly two months in the city. Protests have at times resulted in arrests and violent clashes, exacerbated by President Donald Trump’s deployment of heavily armed federal agents.

“People are standing and singing and screaming and they’ve got megaphones and they’re listening to loudspeakers… and all of a sudden a llama appears,” said Caesar manager Larry McCool. As it happens guest host Peter Armstrong.

“It lowers the tension. It really draws people down. So when things get really hot, it has a calming effect on people. “

Lyra Conley kisses Caesar during the Portland protests. (Nathan Howard / Reuters)

Measuring around five feet eight inches and weighing over 350 pounds, Caesar is a former great animal show champion who now lives at McCool’s Mystic Llama Farm in Jefferson, Ore.

Llamas are generally quite aloof with humans, McCool said, but Caesar is unusually relaxed and affectionate, with a high tolerance for crowds and loud noises.

McCool often reserves it for appearances at parties, weddings and other events. But he’s also well-known on the city’s activist scene, having attended women’s rights and pro-environmental protests with McCool for several years.

So when thousands of people took to the streets to protest police violence and anti-black racism, McCool and his lama were right on target.

“He can be kissed by 50 first graders at the same time, which must be a little intimidating for everything,” McCool said. “But he can handle that, and he can handle a crowd of people on a march. “

The demonstrators share a moment with Caesar. McCool says protest organizers will often seek out the Lama. (Nathan Howard / Reuters)

Protests in Portland have remained steady and strong since the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.

Protests escalated after Trump sent federal agents into the city to protect a federal courthouse, and several protesters were taken away by unified agents in unmarked vans, sometimes in the middle of the night without charges or probable cause.

The city’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, was himself tear gas by federal agents outside the courthouse in July.

“One thing we don’t want to do is we don’t want to harm what’s going on,” McCool said. “This is not our intention. “

A federal officer strokes Caesar. (Nathan Howard / Reuters)

But he says the llama offers small moments of levity as protesters – and sometimes police officers, too – stop to hug Caesar or a pet and pose for photos.

“During that short period of time, these people who are very sensitive to their message, in riot gear, in gas masks, all come and kiss a llama,” McCool said.

“I mean, what a picture to think of it. “

Caesar greets a driver in a McLaren at the site of ongoing protests. (Nathan Howard / Reuters)

There are times when it gets a bit risky to be out on the streets with thousands of people and a huge llama, especially when tensions build up and police deploy flash bombs or tear gas, noted McCool.

But he says the protesters are looking for Caesar.

“When Caesar enters, there is a roar that goes through the crowd, ‘The lama is there,’” he said.

Sometimes the protest organizers will even give McCool a warning at the scene of the action so he can keep the lama out of danger, he said.

“We were very grateful that they let us know what the scenario would be. “

Duke Mitchell kisses Caesar the “lama without drama”. (Nathan Howard / Reuters)

He remembers one moment in particular on June 9 when some 5,000 people lay down or knelt on a bridge near downtown Portland for nearly nine minutes of silence in honor of George Floyd .

He and Caesar were in the middle of the bridge as news helicopters buzzed over their heads, he said.

“We stood there for nine minutes, which is an eternity, I mean, if you think about nine minutes – and he hasn’t moved an inch,” McCool said of the Lama.

“So I really think he understands his purpose, what his story is, you know, and how he’s supposed to make a difference in people’s lives. “

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters. Interview conducted by Menaka Raman-Wilms.


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