Portland Anti-fascist Movement Continues to Build Solidarity Despite Predictable Violent Response from Local Government

Photo by Bette Lee

Story by Pete Shaw

On Saturday August 4, Portland’s anti-fascist community held its Stop the Hate rally, bringing together a wide swathe of Portlanders and people from the metropolitan area opposed to white supremacy. The event, organized by the group Popular Mobilization (POPMOB), was called in response to the white supremacist organization Patriot Prayer’s rally and recruiting drive held concurrently at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Groups endorsing the rally included Portland Jobs with Justice, Portland Immigrant Rights Coalition, Portland IWW General Defense Committee Local 1, Democratic Socialists of America, Bleeding Hearts Kettlebell Club, KBOO Community Radio, Western States Center, Climate Jobs PDX, Occupy ICE PDX, Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation, Congregation Shir Tikvah, and Portland Interfaith Clergy Resistance.

Following the endorsed rally at City Hall, most of the Stop the Hate crowd proceeded toward the waterfront with the support of POPMOB. Along the way they were joined by groups organizing black bloc tactics, uniting as one anti-fascist brigade. Forced to the west side of Naito Parkway by the Portland police, they clearly outnumbered the approximately 500 white supremacists, which included groups such as the Proud Boys and Identity Evropa.

The great disparity in numbers was nothing unusual. Neither was the large police force, including numerous riot cops that coddled the white supremacists, most of whom came from out of town, reportedly including as far away as Florida. Equally unsurprising, the Portland police eventually brutally attacked the anti-fascists, allowing the white supremacists to walk freely around Portland and terrorize people who actually live in the city.

Photo by Bette Lee.

However, there was a new wrinkle in the anti-fascist organizing which may well prove the most important takeaway. POPMOB was formed to bring together a more diverse crowd than often appears at these anti-fascist rallies. Between error laden reporting about the various groups who are more militant in their opposition to fascist white supremacy–what the corporate media often refers to as Antifa–and the lust for violence that appears endemic to Patriot Prayer and the other white supremacist groups in alliance with it, it is completely understandable that some people who oppose white supremacy, particularly those from communities targeted by fascists, would wish to avoid confronting them.

Of course, this is exactly what the white supremacists want. The Stop the Hate rally and the POPMOB mobilization that followed it was designed to offer more people a chance to get involved. More militant activists such as those with Rose City Antifa, were at the front of the crowd, which some estimates had at 2,000 people, knowingly risking attack from both police and white supremacists. When the police attacked, it was those people up front who provided protection for those behind them, bearing the brunt of the assault.

Other folks not so keen on risking such conflict stayed more toward the rear. Some held the line, while others danced with a clutch of clowns from the Unpresidented Brass Band, ridiculing the white supremacists. In between, more groups of people stood against fascism in their own fashion. It was a splendid example of a solidarity of diverse tactics that reflected the various people and organizations who oppose fascism.

“The display of unity yesterday was truly inspiring,” said Effie Baum, a spokesperson for POPMOB. “The moment the POPMOB counter-demonstrators joined the black bloc to stand shoulder to shoulder against the fascists felt incredible.”

While the extent of the success of POPMOB’s organizing remains to be determined, what was clear was that people who might otherwise not have attended the Stop the Hate rally and subsequent mobilization near the waterfront, showed up. Among what they saw–what they will bring back home and share with family members, neighbors, people in their workplaces and houses of worship, and others in their communities–was a Portland police force once again assaulting anti-fascist Portlanders so a crowd of largely out-of-town white supremacists could go about their rallying, recruiting, and later, commissions of acts of violence.

In particular, they will tell these members of their communities that with no serious provocation, the Portland police fired concussion grenades and other heavy-duty weaponry into the rambunctious but peaceful anti-fascist crowd, sending at least three counter-demonstrators to the hospital.

One of the concussion grenades struck a young protester. If not for the helmet he wore, the projectile likely would have killed him. A photo of his helmet shows a concussion grenade canister lodged in its back. Another shows the back of his head while being treated at a hospital. Above the neck brace that was applied is a mass of fresh blood and tattered flesh caused by the portion of the canister that smashed through the helmet.

This will be a lasting image of the event, and with continued outreach, it should galvanize support for anti-fascism and against police violence. And yes, somehow, 73 years after this country helped defeat fascism in Europe, we must organize against that same odious ideology now emergent in the United States.

Photo by Bette Lee.

The photo of that man’s punctured helmet and blood caked head will also burn like a shameful brand on Mayor Wheeler and the Portland City Council. Since Wheeler took office in 2017 and began overseeing the Portland police, he has had no problem with them running amok and terrorizing activists, often with military-grade weaponry, while apparently endorsing them rolling out the carpet for white supremacists. Two Aprils ago, Wheeler took his act to the Montavilla neighborhood where he greeted the white supremacists of Patriot Prayer. His police treated them with kid gloves, and even worked with TriMet to provide the white supremacists safe passage back to their place of gathering.

Only a few days after Wheeler appeased these fascists, one of them, Jeremy Christian, slit three people’s throats on a MAX train, killing two of them. Christian– doubtlessly emboldened by a mayor and police bureau who welcomed him and his white supremacist ilk with open arms– was verbally abusing two young Black women whom he perceived as Muslims. When confronted by three brave strangers coming to their defense, Christian turned his violent speech into action, ending two lives and gravely injuring a third. The Portland police, who gun down people of color and people experiencing or seemingly experiencing a mental crisis in a New York second, took their sweet time in arresting Christian, as he ranted, waved his knife, and swilled drink.

On Friday, Mayor Wheeler, who with each passing fascist rally appears more and more to be a local-level Neville Chamberlain, firmly in the pocket of Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson, limply issued a capitulating and ultimately useless statement about Saturday’s rallies. In a classic example of what these days is called balance, Wheeler noted that “there are many planning to attend demonstrations this weekend at Waterfront Park” and expressed that both he and Chief of Police Danielle Outlaw had “serious concerns about the potential for violence at this weekend’s demonstrations.”

Photo by Kendall.

No mention of who would be at these demonstrations–no naming of white supremacists, fascists, Proud Boys, Nazis, and whatever other manner of hate groups show up at these events. No distinction made between them and people who oppose the racist, misogynistic, and homophobic values that fascist groups like Patriot Prayer embrace and are seeking to grow. Not the slightest elucidation of the difference between the hateful values usually associated with goose-stepping Nazis and opponents of these despicable core principles, perhaps best symbolized by the millions of young people like my father who risked their lives to destroy the hateful creed that gave the world such leading luminaries as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

There was some truth in Wheeler’s statement. He wrote, “The Police Bureau has put forth significant effort into preparing for tomorrow’s demonstration and will do their best to provide a safe environment.” Wheeler never said for whom the police would provide sanctuary, and once again, they did so for the white supremacists.

Most of the other City Commissioners also failed to stand up. At least Commissioner Chloe Eudaly attended the Stop the Hate rally at City Hall. There, Alyssa Pagan of Portland Jobs with Justice called out Eudaly for her tepid response to the white supremacists, which included the city commissioner writing that if she was able to prevent the white supremacists from gathering, she would since she believes “that the principles these groups espouse are intended to foment hatred and violence in our city.” Unfortunately, Eudaly then strongly encouraged Portlanders to engage in pretty much any other activity that did not involve standing up and opposing white supremacy.

The desire for safety is understandable, and Eudaly’s statement was hardly meritless as it also stressed the importance of being involved in resisting white supremacy at other levels. But from the steps of City Hall, Pagan urged for more. “If you are not ready to get into the streets and engage in direct anti-fascist action,” said Pagan, “well then please check the people who would have everyone believe that a winning strategy for fighting the ascendant right is to stay away. It is not in their nature to walk away when they are not paid attention to. They are not naive. They know how to build power. They know how to organize. And they will bop the liberals over the head that are protecting them today.”

Surely Eudaly understands that the Portland police historically level some of their worst violence against activists and have clearly gone out of their way to make white supremacists feel comfortable in the city she represents. Following the rally, she could have marched to the waterfront. Once there, she could have let the police know that a City Commissioner was present and that if they attacked the anti-fascist crowd, they would be attacking her.

Photo by Bette Lee

Instead she went off in another direction, perhaps finding refuge with Wheeler and Commissioners Fish, Fritz, and Saltzman, who were nowhere to be found.

Wheeler and Outlaw made clear that weapons beyond permitted ones would not be allowed in Waterfront Park. Predictably, the police did not apply that standard to the white supremacists who one anti-fascism protester described as “heavily armed and armored.” Journalist Arun Gupta described a veritable cache of weapons that the fascists were allowed to keep despite the proclaimed ban. Those weapons included “one can of bear spray, a couple dozen wood batons, long thick poles, axe handles, and so on.”  Gupta also said that “nearly every guy had weighted fighting gloves. All illegal.”

Despite this display on the part of the white supremacists, the police quickly gave the anti-fascists the order to disperse and then attacked the anti-fascists when they claimed they saw them carrying weapons. Gupta tellingly noted that not a single media outlet has verified the police story. The Oregonian all but called the police liars.

Another anti-fascist protester stated about the police assault, “They used so many flash-bangs that it sounded like war in Downtown Portland. At one point, a fragment from one of the casings whizzed past my face. Had it been a few inches closer, it could have taken out an eye.”

Just as easily foretold, once the police attacked the anti-fascists, the white supremacists had an opening to inflict violence on others, and they made use of it. The anti-fascist who nearly lost his eye later witnessed a large contingent of the white supremacists attacking a small group of young people of color. “One of the Proud Boys had a young Black man in a choke hold. When he broke free, the other Proud Boys began beating him with metal garbage can lids and macing him. They also maced two young brown women and a group of white bystanders who tried to intercede.”

Photo by Kendall.

This is rotten stuff from top to bottom, from Wheeler and the City Commissioners, to the Portland Police Bureau which once again aligned itself with the fascists and their associated hate groups, to the white supremacists who apparently had a jolly old time visiting the city. Portland’s leadership once again did nothing to make fascist white supremacists feel even remotely uncomfortable, while the police were downright homely to them. All that was missing was a series of corner stands offering free massages and lemonade.

And once again it came at the expense of the people who actually call Portland their home. Only on Monday did Outlaw address Saturday’s events, offering the interesting sight of a police chief praising her underlings for nearly murdering someone.

Wheeler cowardly gave his approval, and he has yet to issue his own statement. As of press time, none of the other City Commissioners have found the time to condemn the white supremacists and the police who gave them support. This is what passes for leadership in Portland.

Wheeler, the rest of the City Council, Chief Outlaw, and the Portland police might just as well have given the fascists the key to the city.

But at least it was all on display for the wide array of people who were brought together by POPMOB’s meticulous organizing. If not for the group’s work, not as many people would have felt comfortable opposing the white supremacists. They would not have witnessed the Portland police’s–and ostensibly the Portland City Council’s–support for the fascist white supremacists and their hateful ideology.

That is a major victory.

“When we set out to plan this event we came together with one goal: inspiring people to show up and resist the alt-right,” said Baum. “Yesterday we realized that goal when the Portland anti-fascist community united and mobilized in the largest counter demonstration we have seen in response to Patriot Prayer since last year. Our mass mobilization showed a clear solidarity against the fascists’ message of hate and was a diverse and powerful showing of our commitment to anti-fascism.”

Want to get involved?  Show up at City Hall on Wednesday August 7 at 9 AM to demand police accountability.

And of course, join an organization fighting fascism and white supremacy, such as those highlighted throughout the above article.

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