‘Your parents would be embarrassed by you,’ a masked woman said as she blocked me from walking into a downtown Portland Plaza. An antifa counter-protest was taking place. Joined by others, a group of black-clad masked individuals surrounded me. ‘You’re an Asian giving into white supremacy, motherfucker,’ one shouted.
Why did I, a Vietnamese-American gay journalist, receive this reaction from a self-described anti-racist social justice movement? Because I tried to report honestly on antifa – the far-left movement of communists, socialists, and anarchists who agitate for revolution. Their M.O. is direct confrontation against their opponents by any means necessary, including violence. Sometimes they go after actual neo-Nazi groups but more often their fury is directed at less dangerous targets: conservatives, business owners and state institutions. Sympathetic media outlets like to portray them as ‘anti-fascist’ heroes confronting the extreme-right instead of the radical street militia which they actually are.
As the group’s national profile has risen after the election of Donald Trump, much focus has centered on their stronghold in Portland. Here, antifa and other far-left movements routinely gather in downtown to protest – and sometimes riot – over various grievances. Joined by the Democratic Socialists of America, their rage on November 17 was directed at a rally organized to bring awareness to men who have been falsely accused of sex crimes. Why would an event like this draw hundreds of furious protesters? Because all men are guilty? Or because the more unreasonable antifa becomes, the more attention it grabs?
With its impeccably progressive monoculture, Portland is fertile ground for leftist ideologies such as intersectionality and Marxism. Most Portlanders have little to no experience of talking to real conservatives. The ‘#Resistance’ has become a powerful rallying cry for residents who think they are in a cosmic battle. In reality, they are often just targeting their neighbors. Last year the annual East Portland parade was canceled after it received threats of violence for allowing the local Republican group to march at the family event. In August, a leftist man who brought an American flag to a protest was mistaken for a conservative. An antifa mob surrounded him and one bashed him on the head with a metal bat. He laid on the ground in a pool of blood and required stitches for the injury.
So who is behind the rally that sparked hundreds of people to rage in downtown Portland? Haley Adams, a 24-year-old Jewish woman and ardent Trump fan, organized the ‘#HimToo’ event. The rally was inspired by the social media campaign pointing to the excesses of #MeToo and the Brett Kavanaugh fiasco. The event only drew around 50 attendees. There were more city, county, and federal police officers on duty as security.
Adams, a working-class Portlander, is in many ways the stereotype of a hardcore reactionary Trump troll. She likes to disseminate talking points from Infowars on social media. (She repeated the false Pizzagate conspiracy – ironic given her current stance on the paramount importance of evidence.) She revels excessively in being politically incorrect and is unapologetic for being white, though she stressed to me that ‘everyone should be proud of who they are.’ She is critical of leftist identity politics while engaging in a form of it. But is she a fascist and did her inaugural event warrant mass rage and violence? I don’t think so.
Wearing black outfits, antifa members shouted, ‘We believe survivors’ over-and-over. They were separated from the #HimToo rally by a line of police dressed in riot gear. They held signs decrying toxic masculinity, whiteness, Trump. Unable to confront the conservative group, they directed their ire at police, calling them ‘Nazis’ and ‘klansmen.’ One woman waved a fake decapitated pig head in front of officers. Another man exposed himself to police while onlookers cheered.
Meanwhile, right-wing speakers at the #HimToo event criticized feminism for what they said was misandry. One of its speakers was Tara LaRosa, a pioneer in women’s mixed-martial arts fighting. She shared a story of a friend who had his career destroyed due to an allegedly vindictive ex. Another speaker opened up about her experience of overcoming the trauma of rape and explained why she is now defending innocent men. Protesters across the street said they believe survivors – not this one, apparently.
I tried to follow the demonstration but was continually harangued and followed by antifa members. Apparently unsatisfied with their harassment earlier in the day, they then used their bodies to barge me around the plaza. Others used signs and hands to obscure my camera’s view. They did the same to other filmmakers and journalists unfortunate enough to cross their path.
Dozens of police officers deployed to keep the peace watched the harassment from an arm’s length away but did nothing. They have orders not to create ‘flashpoints,’ a euphemism for intervention. This effectively gives angry mobs carte-blanche to commandeer public spaces with impunity. In October, a Black Lives Matter-style group shut down a busy downtown intersection, harassed drivers, and attacked an elderly man. Viral footage showed police watching from a distance and doing nothing.
As I made my way out of the plaza, a masked woman ran up and sprayed me with silly string. The wet material landed all over my camera equipment, hair, and chest. For a second I feared that someone would set the material on fire. I looked helplessly at police. The protesters roared in laughter as I walked away.
After the men’s rights rally concluded, dispersing conservative attendees were cut off by antifa and others, who had circled the police barriers to confront them. They came equipped with bottles, sticks, and flares. Police struggled at times to keep the two groups apart.
In the past two years, prosperous Portland has become the epicenter for bloody street brawls between antifa and right-wing groups like Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys. The fights have cost taxpayers nearly $3 million in overtime police pay. The ones who are less inclined to violence will instead throw bottled urine and feces from diapers. This qualifies as political action in Portland.
When the core group of #HimToo organizers reached a parking structure, they were surrounded by protesters. Hannah McClintock, a 19-year-old magenta-haired antifa activist, repeatedly spat on and punched a man. She was arrested along with five others after the police finally rushed in. Video of the assault went viral, but no charges were filed against her.
The violence at the protest comes on the heels of a failed city ordinance proposal made by Mayor Ted Wheeler to limit when and where certain groups can protest. In effect, it would have been similar to ‘free speech zones’ adopted by some university campuses.
For the foreseeable future, Portland will continue to grapple with political violence as its taxpayers foot the bill. The city has gained a comic reputation as a bastion of wokeness due to the comedy sketch show Portlandia. That’s way off the mark. Real life Portland is much, much worse, and it’s no joke.