The far right were outnumbered and had to leave under police protection after their much planned rally in Portland, Oregon on Saturday August 17. But they are still using the event to publicize themselves and demonize anyone who stands up to them. They are getting help in that all the way from President Trump down to the local police.
The latest call from this rally of neo-fascists, the alt-right, and right wing militias was to “End Domestic Terrorism” — aimed not at the shooter who killed 22 in El Paso, Texas earlier this month, or the one who killed 49 at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida in 2016, or the one who killed 11 at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania last year, or the racist misogynist who opened fire in a Tallahassee, Florida yoga studio, the Kentucky gunman who killed two Black elders, or the bombers of Black churches and women’s health clinics, or any of a number of other hateful murderers. Instead, they take aim at the local anti-fascist movement.
The Proud Boys (a violent and sexist self-proclaimed “western chauvinist” organization), the Three Percenters militia group, and others began gathering late in the morning, many carrying US flags or wearing body armor and helmets. Joey Gibson of local far right organization Patriot Prayer had surrendered the day before on an outstanding arrest warrant for felony rioting but was released on bail hours later, and was also spotted at the Portland rally. Even the Oath Keepers, a right wing organization of current and former law enforcement officers who initially announced that they were attending, decided not to go due to the notable presence of open white supremacists. Earlier this year leaked friendly texts showing cooperation between a Portland Police Department commander and Patriot Prayer’s Joey Gibson revealed again the ongoing connection between law enforcement and the far right.
All 1,000 Portland cops had been called out — bolstered by Oregon Police Department, the FBI, and other repressive arms of the state. Police set up concrete barriers and closed streets and bridges across the Willamette River, in order to kettle anti-fascist demonstrators and separate them from the far right rally.
Nonetheless, the far right were isolated and obviously outnumbered by anti-fascists. Eyewitnesses saw about 100 of the far right at the start of their much-publicized rally, although other estimates were up to 300 throughout the day. They were met by well over 1,000 anti-fascists protesting, despite calls by the local politicians for people to stay away. In addition to black-clad Rose City Antifa (the oldest US’s antifa group) there were several other contingents organized. Even local religious leaders helped organize small groups carrying signs for refugee rights and against the far right.
Many contingents were called by Pop Mob (short for “popular mobilization,” a coalition against the far right protests in Portland). They played festive music to drown out the right wing rally and participants dressed like emojis, bananas, or bakers holding signs for “white flower” and “wife power” (a play on the slogan “white power”). This kind of mocking of the far right is intended project a fun and welcoming vision of counter-protesting.
Much of the mainstream press had billed the day as a confrontation between the far right and far left, reporting predictions of violent clashes, which undoubtedly kept some away from counter-protests. More must be done to counter the liberal “stay away and ignore them” argument. To confront the rising far right threat in this country we need broad and inclusive preparation, so that wherever and whenever the neo-fascists try to rally, our side organizes counter-demonstrations as large as possible — while also confronting them, drowning them out, and shutting them down when possible. It is important that different tendencies, despite differences in politics and tactics, were able to come together to oppose the Portland rally by the Proud Boys and their allies.
By early afternoon the right had given up, and these “proud patriots” had to ask the police to help them safely get out of the area. Police opened up a bridge and escorted them across, while still holding back counter-protesters gathered along the waterfront.
On the other side, the Proud Boys were greeted warmly by white supremacist organization American Guard. Still, The Oregonian reported that a group of left wing demonstrators attacked a bus carrying a group of Proud Boys out of downtown. But video from The Huffington Post seems to show someone reaching out of the bus with a hammer to attack the crowd first. It was only after the hammer was snatched from his hand and he retreated inside that some of the bus windows were broken.
At about 4:15pm, as the number of counter-protesters had dwindled from over a thousand to a few hundred, Portland Police Department threatened to arrest anyone not clearing the streets around Courthouse Square where they had gathered. Portland cops declared a “civil disturbance” and by Saturday evening had arrested at least 13 people.
As the rally started, Trump Tweeted that “Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an ‘ORGANIZATION OF TERROR.’” Ten days earlier, Trump had tried to tie the Dayton, Ohio shooter to the antifa movement in a misleading Tweet. Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Bill Cassidy have introduced a Congressional resolution to have antifa groups condemned as “domestic terrorists.” People often use the word ‘antifa’ to simply describe being anti-fascist, but sometimes the term is used to refer to particular tactics that some of the far left use to confront the far right. Read here about the origins of antifa in Germany in the 1930s.
In the face of Trump, mainstream Republican, and far right attacks, all anti-fascists — no matter what they call themselves or what tactics they use — must respond: “we are all antifa.”
It is the far right groups and individuals influenced by them who are committing deadly shootings and other terrorist events in the US, not anti-fascists. Their violent ideology has entered into a mutually reinforcing loop with Trump’s racist and xenophobic Tweets. Even before the El Paso shooting, white supremacists and other far right extremists of the sort organizing the Portland rally have killed far more people since 9/11 than any other category of so-called “domestic extremist.” Anti-fascists have killed zero. To even consider branding groups and individuals involved in the antifa movement a “terrorist organization” is to openly side with fascists — against not only those calling themselves antifa, but against the immigrants, people of color, Jews, LGBTQ+ people, and women who are the targets of fascist terror.
What the far right who mobilized in Portland wants is to show they have the power to rally in a town known for its liberalism and groups like Rose City Antifa and the Pop Mob. They want to show the powers that be in the Trump White House that they are useful foot soldiers against immigrants, striking workers, or whoever the system needs beaten down.
But they didn’t get what they wanted. Instead, the far right were outnumbered nearly 10 to one and had to slink away. That is a victory for our side. But, with the help of the police, they were still able to hold their rally, and Trump and his allies are working to make mobilizing easier for them. “Go look at President Trump’s Twitter,” said rally organizer Joe Biggs (ex-staffer at Alex Jones’s right wing media site Info Wars, a Proud Boy date-rape promoter, and formerly suspended Twitter user for issuing death threats against the left). Biggs used Trump’s Tweet to convince The Oregonian that the day was a victory for their side, saying “He talked about Portland, said he’s watching antifa. That’s all we wanted. We wanted national attention, and we got it. Mission success.”
Later the Proud Boys put out a media release on Saturday afternoon saying they would return to Portland monthly unless Mayor Ted Wheeler “takes charge and removes the scourge of violent domestic terrorists from his city,” referring to antifa.
That is why they picked Portland. The left in general and anyone in the vast overwhelming majority who are opposed to fascism must not let them get away with this smear and targeting. We must answer “we are all antifa!” And we must build broadly for an even bigger response next time in Portland — and everywhere else the far right rears its ugly head across the country in the coming months.