Interview conducted by Pete Shaw
Kelly Baur was one of many people arrested by the Portland police while confronting the white supremacists who held a rally in downtown Portland on June 4, 2017. She had recently returned to Portland after spending time in Chile, arriving here only a few days after white supremacist Jeremy Christian tried to intimidate two young Black women he perceived to be Muslims on a MAX train, directing an anti-Muslim tirade at them. When three men intervened, Christian stabbed them, killing two of them.
Following her arrest, Baur refused to enter into a plea deal. On March 20, over 9 months after the arrest, the charges against Baur were dropped. I met with her the next day and conducted the interview below, which the Portland Occupier will publish in two parts.
I have known Baur for quite a few years. Like many activists I have the privilege of knowing, she comes across as an upbeat person, which is no mean feat when fighting for justice in an unjust world. Sure enough, following 9 months of having her life put on hold, you would have been forgiven for thinking she had just returned from vacation, refreshed and ready to roll. She even brought me a very large beet which after roasting became an integral part of the salads my better 99% and I ate over the next three days.
We talked for over an hour. Originally, I had planned on writing an article about her arrest and time leading up to the dismissal of her case, but it quickly became clear that her words would say far more than mine ever could. What follows is the transcription of much of that interview, along with some follow up questions and answers conducted over email.
PS: Why were you at the rally?
KB: I found out about the MAX stabbings (on May 26, 2017 Jeremy Christian went on an anti-Muslim tirade against two young Black women. When three men intervened, Christian stabbed them, killing two of them.) when I was traveling back from Chile. I was living in Chile from 2013 until 2016, doing documentary work with the indigenous Mapuche people and a handful of other social movements. I had just been back down there for a few months to reconnect with folks because I’m currently working on a documentary with them about indigenous language revitalization. So I was down there hanging out in the anti-imperialist, indigenous land reclamation scene, heading back to Portland when my friend tells me that this really terrible thing happened on the MAX. And yeah, Portland is racist and has been racist as long as white people have been here, so I was not shocked, but definitely disgusted and horrified. When I got home, I heard that white supremacist groups were going to have a “free speech rally” with their distorted vision of freedom and free speech as, you know, doing whatever you want no matter what. Like most of Portland, I thought that having this rally just a week after the MAX stabbings was especially gross. So I felt compelled to go to the rally and drown them out as much as possible and not allow them to have any platform for their white supremacist ideology. I went to the counter-protest in solidarity with folks in Portland, but also thinking of my friends in Chile and Wallmapu (Mapuche territory), who have been fighting US imperialism as long as Chile has existed as a nation-state.
PS: So you get there the day of the rally. The couple of hundred white supremacists are in Terry Schrunk Plaza while thousands of anti-fascists are at City Hall and on two or three blocks of 3rd Avenue, and in Chapman Square. That was Antifa that was in Chapman Square. So where were you in all this?
KB: I was in Chapman Square.
PS: At the end, the white supremacists at the rally are getting ready to leave, and the police are doing all they can to make life good for them…
KB: Yeah, what I understood is that they had a permit until maybe 4:00, so it was like 3:30 when they decided to kick us all out.
PS: Yeah, they kicked everyone out of the way, out of the park, and start shooting off their stuff–flash-bang grenades, rubber bullets. So, where are you when the arrests take place?
KB: So the police start pushing us out. I was with my friend, and we were with a larger group of folks from the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World). This is in Chapman, kind of on the southeast corner. And then they start to shoot all their weapons. There was a flash bomb that went off really close to my friend, and she could not hear anything–
PS: I had one of those bastards explode about 15 feet from me at May Day a few years ago. It was about the loudest thing I have ever experienced. It really bends your balance.
KB: So I helped her get out of the park. Everybody was kind of in the street and then pushed into Lownsdale Square. Then the police start with their loudspeaker saying that everyone was going to be arrested. People started marching toward Pioneer Square, but in a real meandering sort of way. That’s when, around 4th and Morrison the cops started to kettle everyone. So me and my friend just barely squeaked out of the kettle. And then they had this other layer of perimeter of bike cops, horse cops, and vans. At first we couldn’t even tell if we were actually in the kettle or not. We realized we’re not in the kettle, but we also couldn’t go anywhere.
The police pushed us over to the other side of the street, but our larger group was all in the kettle. So we decided to wait and see what was going to happen because police were saying they were arresting everyone in there. We were like, are you actually going to arrest 200 people right now? This is insane. We were just gonna stay and wait and see what happened and be there to support our friends. After a while, that second line of police became more porous and these two guys show up with their Don’t Tread on Me flag rolled up.
I turned to my friend and asked, “What are these guys doing here? Aren’t the cops supposed to be keeping these two groups separate?” And they were just straight up hanging out over there with their flag poles–their “weapon flag poles”…
PS: Which you’re not supposed to have because the police declared them weapons. I remember that at May Day last year. The police, who were milling about Shemanski Park a couple of hours before the rally began, were confiscating them even as a week before they allowed white supremacists to march with flag poles when they paraded through the Montavilla neighborhood. One of those white supremacists was Jeremy Christian. The police also worked with TriMet to make sure the white supremacists got rides back to their cars after their rally. I think Mayor Wheeler was there to greet them as well. Fun times in liberal Portland.
KB: The pictures of “the weapons” from that day–Sharpies, safety scissors…just bullshit. One of the guys who was arrested that day, he was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon because his sign was Trump’s head impaled on a stake. That was a concealed weapon, except it was neither a weapon, nor was it concealed. That’s why he was arrested. His charges all got dropped at the first hearing.
So these guys show up with their Don’t Tread on Me flag on their flagpole just to watch. To watch and taunt, and to lord over these people like, “Look at the power we have. We are untouchable by the police. Just look at us. One of our fellow fascists killed two people a week ago, and we get to just watch you all get arrested.” Gross. That’s gross.
Being totally grossed out, we started yelling at them, “Go home Nazi!” etcetera. Watching the videos over and over again, the cops also kind of tell them they should leave, you know, softly. And they had also yelled at us while we were across the street yelling, “Go home Nazis!”–they had yelled at us, “Go home ISIS!”
KB: Yeah. Two white girls in Portland. “Go home ISIS.”
PS: Some people can’t spell IQ.
KB: We eventually approach them and tell them to leave. I had just come back from Chile, and I see this goddamn hat just staring back at me: U – S – A. And I’m thinking, this guy has no idea what the United States is or does. This is just some straight up imperialist bullshit, and if I do nothing else today, I can at least take off his hat for my friends in Chile. No. No USA. Not today. You don’t get to. You just don’t get to. The least I could do was take this fool’s hat off. A very soft message considering the long legacy of US intervention in Chile.
PS: Why would you feel compelled to take his hat off for your friends in Chile?
KB: People keep talking about this being a Trump hat, which it also was, but I could only see USA at the time I took it off his head. The U.S. has always had economic interests in Chile, extracting natural resources and controlling almost 20% of their GDP until the Socialist Salvador Allende was elected in 1970. Allende, being a democratically-elected Socialist, upset the worldview popularized during the Cold War that capitalism equals democracy and socialism equals dictatorship. So, the US did everything in its power to destabilize the country and eventually assassinated Allende, putting Agosto Pinochet in power of a military dictatorship that lasted from 1973-1990. So, fuck you and your USA hat. That’s nothing to be proud of.
To be fair, I didn’t rip it off his head. I didn’t spit in his face. I just took off his hat because it was racist, imperialist, capitalist, gross. I threw it on the ground. Somebody else stole it. And then it was like 15 seconds later that I was tackled to the ground from behind.
KB: Tackled. Tackled. One of the police officers kicked my leg out from under me, and then tackled me. Had his knee in my back, and arrested me.
PS: So the hat is already on the ground, and you’re hanging their for 15 seconds, and he doesn’t arrest the sidewalk or gravity as an accessory to some sort of strange larceny…
KB: Right. Somebody else actually did take the hat. So, yeah, I got arrested. I didn’t physically resist. What would that even look like? I weigh 130 pounds. That’s probably how much their riot gear weighs alone, and there were three of them. What would resistance even look like? They didn’t struggle to lift my entire body off of the ground.
PS: And your charges were…?
KB: At first they were disorderly conduct, harassment, and interfering with a peace officer. When I went to the first hearing it changed to resisting arrest, interfering, and disorderly conduct. And the trial was actually going to be all four of those charges (disorderly conduct, harassment, interfering with a peace officer, and resisting arrest). They had dropped the harassment charge for community court, but they were gonna bring it back unless I pleaded no contest for the disorderly conduct.
PS: You’ve mentioned “fascists” a few times. It is a charged word. What do you mean when you use it? I use it fairly interchangeably with “white supremacists” which people generally understand, even though the terms are not synonymous.
KB: I guess when I say fascists, I am referring to people who think oppression and oppressive systems are positive and worthwhile endeavors, or somehow a necessary part of society. I understand the law as a means to maintain social order in a way that upholds and benefits the capitalist system. Therefore people who support Trump and movements like Blue Lives Matter that are all pro-“law and order” are really just fascists in my opinion.
PS: So you’re arrested, you’re processed. You refuse their plea bargain, so they throw this fourth charge at you. Now what happens on your timeline? In August you have your arraignment, and you go through the usual rigmarole of getting a trial going. That takes time, for sure. And then the other night [Tuesday, March 20] they drop the case. Why then? Is there anything you can figure? Are they just waiting for that moment where the trial is about to begin? Why do you think it happened this way?
KB: How many different times was our trial scheduled? It’s been 9 months. So basically it’s been 9 months of pushing it back for various reasons. It was August when we said we were not taking the deal, which for me was 32 hours of community service for the three charges. I think this was the fourth time the trial was rescheduled. The DA’s story is that the guy–the owner of the hat–got tired of coming up to Portland. I don’t know if he actually came up to Portland every time the trial was scheduled, but it’s very possible he did show up this time because the trial was starting on Monday at 9:00 am.
What I think is interesting is that the state didn’t have to drop everything just because this guy decided he was over it. It’s State v. Kelly Baur, y’know? We had a hearing on the Friday before the trial was supposed to start to try to get an unedited version of a video of the arrest, which the Associated Press didn’t want to give to us. The DA came and watched part of that hearing and we won part of the video. The section that we were asking for was regarding whether or not the police said, “You’re under arrest.” This video was another layer that would prove that they did not say that.
However, at 9:00 on Monday morning, we still didn’t have that video. We go to the courtroom and my lawyer and the DA talk to the judge and say, “There’s a situation where we don’t have the video that we won, and it’s unclear if the AP is going to appeal or not, so we want to try and reschedule for either later this afternoon or whenever.” So then we go to the judge who was gonna do the scheduling, and he’s like, why are we even still talking about a misdemeanor trial from June of last year?
Eventually the trial got rescheduled for the following day in order to allow time for the AP video issue to be resolved. I guess at that point the DA had to tell the hat guy and the cops that we were going to start the next day. Maybe that was just the last straw for the hat guy. I kind of think the DA must have started to realize what a fucking joke this entire thing was. I mean…a three day criminal trial for taking off an asshole’s bullshit hat? What a waste of everyone’s resources.
I mean, the trial was going to be ridiculous. Even the guys’ names were jokes. The hat guy’s last name is Lortie and his friend, who might have been another witness, his last name is Lordier. Lortie and Lordier! Who could sit through three days without laughing about that?
PS: Convenient. I wonder if he goes by Lord Jacob? (Note: Lortie’s first name is Jacob.)
KB: I think it dawned on the DA a little bit that it was going to be absurd. He was walking around with this folder, this big yellow folder that says “Protest Case” on it, and I’m like, that isn’t even what this is. This is some very fragile masculinity and state repression, which is part of the same thing. Protest case. Really?
PS: Same thing?
PS: Well thankfully the DA’s office would know exactly what that folder means because it was probably the only protest Portland has had since its establishment.
KB: Yeah. But that’s just my theory. The official answer is that this guy was just over it. Regardless of why it was dismissed, it was never really worth a three day trial just to try and punish me for screaming, “Fuck all of you, fucking fascists,” over and over again.
The second part of this interview will be published on Friday, March 30.
For an example of some of the documentary work Kelly has been doing in Chile, go to: https://vimeo.com/92481174