Considered Perspective: Portland Protest Showdown

Leading up to Saturday’s dueling protests in Portland, the media was hyping the event as the Proud Boy vs. Antifa bloodbath to end all bloodbaths, but what I saw there painted a different picture entirely. What I witnessed was a city mobilized by the seriousness of creeping fascism, but also in the joyousness of community solidarity and the defense of the marginalized. The story of anti-fascist activism in Portland cannot be told by a few photos and selectively edited videos, yet many on the right are using this tactic to advance their troubling agenda. Here is what I saw.

After far right blogger Andy Ngo was assaulted by anti-fascists at the last clash in Portland, he made the right-wing media rounds to lament his attackers, stoking the anti-Antifa (can we just call it fa? It’s a hat on a hat) anger on the far right. In response, Joe Biggs, former InfoWars staffer, and Enrique Tarrio, a leader in the proto-fascist hate fraternity Proud Boys had organized the “End Domestic Terrorism” rally in Portland. Lawmakers like Ted Cruz have been pushing for Antifa to be labeled a terrorist organization, and the rally was designed to advance that effort. It should be noted that the loose collection of activists known has Antifa have not committed any acts of terrorism nor killed anybody. In fact, the far right is responsible for almost all of the most recent acts of domestic terrorism.

The Portland waterfront was uncharacteristically quiet at 9 a.m., and the absence of a huge line a few blocks away at Voodoo Doughnuts provided convincing evidence that tourists and Portlanders alike were avoiding the area. Reports said that some businesses shuttered for the day, and the Portland Police had closed the Hawthorne Bridge hours ahead of the event. Organizers wheeling plastic bins full of bottled water and other supplies started to sprinkle in, and the day’s events began.

The first anti-fascist event of the day was a Buddhist meditation followed by a Jewish Shabbat service. Shortly after that, the Portland NAACP took the stage, and chapter President Rev. E.D. Mondaine gave a powerful speech to the anti-fascists that were continuing to fill Battleship Oregon Memorial Park, complete with a chorus of the old civil rights anthem “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.“

“It is time to rally our allies and quickly recruit them as accomplices that will stand with the disenfranchised and those who are marginalized in our cities across America in our fight for freedom,” declared Rev. Mondaine. “We will not back down. We will not be quiet. We will not turn away. We’re gonna stand arm in arm and fight this good fight together… we’re making a stand in one of the whitest cities in America, and my white brothers and sisters ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around!”

The remainder of the morning’s events were organized by PopMob, or Popular Mobilization, the same group that organized the now-infamous milkshake dance party from the last Portland clash. PopMob realizes that while Portland is one of the whitest cities in America, it’s also one of the weirdest, and exploits that weirdness to create profoundly interesting displays of anti-fascist action. This event was named “The Spectacle,” and the premise was to weaponize Portland’s eccentricities against the fascist invaders in a show of fearlessness and solidarity. Mini dance parties of costumed rally-goers started popping up throughout the park; a couple arrived wearing inflatable unicorn costumes, and a marching band dressed like bananas started gearing up as jugglers impressed onlookers. I’ll admit I was a little nervous when I arrived downtown, but the circus that The Spectacle provided alleviated my anxiety about the event, and I’m sure it had the same effect on others involved.

All the while, the Proud Boys and other right wing extremists were coalescing in Tom McCall Waterfront Park for their “End Domestic Terrorism” rally. Journalist Shane Burley reported that they attempted to plant a flag in the park but couldn’t get it stuck in the ground. At around noon, the anti-fascist protesters started moving toward the Morrison Bridge, where the police had created a line of concrete barriers and riot gear-clad personnel to separate the two factions by hundreds of feet. Chants of “go home Nazis” echoed under the bridge as more anti-fascists packed in, eventually spilling onto Naito Parkway.

“ANYONE IN THE STREET WILL BE SUBJECT TO ARREST FOR DISORDERLY CONDUCT,” screamed a police speaker car while one of the unicorn-costumed protesters furiously danced in the road to a tom drum and chants of: “Whose streets? Our streets!”

Naito Parkway was eventually cleared when the riot police lunged at the crowd, driving them back into the park. After less than an hour, the pinned-down right-wingers decided to leave the rally, and coordinated with the police to exit via the Hawthorne Bridge, which was conveniently closed and in the opposite direction of the anti-fascist protesters. The Portland Police claim that they did not coordinate this exit with Proud Boys and friends until the moment that they wanted to leave.

A video surfaced on Twitter that showed the Proud Boys exiting the bridge and being greeted quite warmly by members of the American Guard, who the Anti Defamation League calls “hardcore white supremacists.” Journalist Brendan O’Connor said it better than I ever could: “Proud Boys and a few hundred friends got a very enthusiastic police escort for an un-permitted march, away from the left wing counter protest, across a closed bridge to meet up with American Guard, a Nazi Bonehead gang, who embraced and greeted several by name.”

After many of the Proud Boys disappeared across the river, the anti-fascist protest veered right into downtown, marching on the sidewalks for a time. Various small groups of right wingers remained in the area, a few dust-ups ensued, milkshakes were launched, and a few punches were thrown. Videos of these incidents, many out of context, have already been added to the anti-Antifa (fa) highlight reel of horrors. One of these videos featured Antifa attacking American Guard’s black bus with a hammer, yet a photo later emerged suggesting the hammer was taken from one of the bus’ occupants, mid swing. Other videos were shared by Andy Ngo and others showing right wingers with minor injuries, but neglecting to mention the available evidence that the injuries occurred in incidents that were very two sided, if not fully self-defense. Don’t bring that up to Andy, though. He’ll block you.

The disingenuous right does not care about context, and their followers don’t want the full story. No matter what would have happened at this mostly peaceful event, right wing content creators would have twisted and edited the evidence in any way they saw fit to stoke the fear and hatred of their audience toward anti-fascist activism. This is why the fascists came to Portland in the first place: they want anti-fascist activism to be considered terrorism, and many in the highest levels of government, including the President, seem to agree.

Who among Saturday’s left-wing counter protesters would be labeled a terrorist under such a policy? The Banana Bloc marching band? Those folks are anti-fascists. Rev. Mondaine, President of the local NAACP? He’s an anti-fascist. All of the religious leaders, dancers, and costumed jugglers at the event are anti-fascists. Are they terrorists, as well? As for me with my cheap camera and my thrift store cowboy shirt, I’m an anti-fascist, too, and I certainly don’t feel like a terrorist.

By Jay Sharpe