Why It Matters That the Portland Killer Was a Far-Left Extremist

The Political Spectrum is Looking More Like a Horseshoe

Val Perry Rendel
May 28, 2017 · 6 min read
Image for post
Image for post

You may have heard that the Portland killer — who murdered two people and wounded a third after they tried to protect two Muslim women whom he was harassing — was a Trump supporter and a member of the alt-right.

Well…kinda, but not really.

You may also have heard that he was a Bernie Sanders supporter.

Again…kinda, but not really.

There’s no doubt about his extremism, though his ideology’s harder to pin down. I checked out his Facebook page so that you don’t have to: white supremacy, check; Islamophobia, check; rampant misogyny, check. He’s mad about gender fluidity, Muslims, removing Confederate monuments, fascism, anti-fascism, Nazis, libtards, feminists, taxation, the military-industrial complex, and Ronald Reagan. He calls women disgusting worthless cumbucket whores who kill their babies, and Timothy McVeigh a “TRUE PATRIOT.” He identifies as Libertarian, and wants a Sanders/Stein ticket for…uh, 2017? In one post he says he likes Trump but did not vote for him, though there’s also some anti-Trump sentiment scattered at intervals.

But he saves his most vicious and violent loathing for Hillary Clinton and her supporters:

Image for post
Image for post

[EDIT: In case you missed it — and apparently many of you did — here he is calling on Sanders/3rd party voters to kill Clinton/Trump supporters.]

This is the same kind of visceral hatred that’s been festering among hardcore Bernie supporters since the primaries. Before you #notallBerniebros me, I’m not talking about people who preferred Sanders in the primary but voted for Clinton in the general election; those are known as “rational people.” I’m talking about the people for whom it is an article of religious faith that the primary was rigged, and they are hellbent on vengeance. Corrupt corporate crony capitalism, they cry; to them, the DNC is a bigger threat than Trump, and the entire system is rotten and must be burned to the ground before the new socialist order can be ushered in, or something.

It sure sounds like the alt-right…but it’s coming from the left. They can be difficult to tell apart. Think of it as a horseshoe, where the ends are closer to each other than to the middle. Or, as one commenter put it, like a game of Pac-Man, where you move so far to the left that you end up on the right side of the screen. Or this metaphor that I stole from someone else:

Imagine political leanings as the face of a clock. When the hands are at 3 and 9 you have classic left and right. They have little in common politically. When the hands are both at 6 you have classic moderates from both sides. They have much in common and find it easy to talk. When the hands meet at 12, the extreme right and the extreme left meet. They also have a lot in common. So this guy being described as far left is just as easily described as far right.

Yep. And that right there is the problem. The extremes of the political spectrum seem to be overlapping, in the worst way possible. The very fact that we’re having the HE’S YOURS!! NO, HE’S YOURS!! argument is proof of this.

The toxic masculinity and misogyny of the alt-right is not news to anyone. But ever since Sanders’s defeat, a small but vociferous contingent has increasingly sounded more like Alex Jones than the voice of true progressivism. The indignity of losing to a woman, of having to listen to messages that were not tailored specifically and exclusively towards them, unleashed a wave of rage that drove many Clinton supporters underground, threatened to “hunt down” female journalists for “lying” about the primaries, and targeted the superdelegates with a relentless campaign of harassment.

To be absolutely clear: Sanders himself almost certainly did not imagine that his populism would spark an extremist fringe like this. Maybe he could have contained them earlier, but given the rage the alt-left feels at his “betrayal” in endorsing Clinton, probably not. Extremism of this sort typically breeds in a toxic swamp of ingrained misogyny, white supremacy and economic disenfranchisement. Sanders didn’t create any of these, but a lot of his message was coded (deliberately or otherwise) in a way that reinforced the deep-seated conviction that white working-class men are the nation’s top priority. And that message tapped into something that was apparently lurking just below the surface, ready to explode.

The Portland killer (you can see his name in the screenshot but I’m not going to use it) took his thwarted sense of entitlement and paranoid fantasy of victimhood to a horrifying extreme. The Berniebro movement didn’t create his distorted and hateful ideology, but it sure provided a petri dish for it to thrive. If the correlation between alt-right white supremacy and the Charleston church shooter is very clear, these murders should be viewed no differently. Hippy-dippy Portland, it turns out, is also a hotbed of white male supremacy, and being surrounded by frothing fanatics who share your delusions only makes it more likely that, sooner or later, something will snap.

Like their alt-right counterparts, there is nothing, literally nothing this group will not believe about Clinton, no matter how fantastical: Wikileaks, Pizzagate, murdering Seth Rich and Vince Foster, using her foundation as a front for the mafia, even being an actual literal witch and/or demon, for fuck’s sake. It’s every bit as virulent as the Jade Helm, Obama-is-building-a-secret-Muslim-army tinfoil hat bullshit. The media has been quick to report how Clinton’s narrow loss has emboldened racism, misogyny and Islamophobia by the far right, but I’ve yet to see any in-depth reporting on the rising extremism on the left. Usually it gets glossed over as simply Democratic party “infighting.” It is not. It’s something far more sinister — and now, deadly.

Where the fuck did this come from? It wasn’t there in 2008, or even in 2000 (the Nader people were obnoxious but, on a personal level, largely benign). The rise of social media has surely played a role — it’s easier for them to find each other now, and reinforce each other’s worldviews. And of course, there were those Russian bots who specifically targeted Sanders supporters in swing states with false news stories about Clinton, and who are apparently still at work. Take a look at who’s pushing the Seth Rich murder conspiracy that even Fox News was forced to walk back, but which the alt-left still continues to retweet:

Image for post
Image for post

By the way, the alt-left also refuses to give any credence whatsoever to the Russian interference in the 2016 election, 17 U.S. intelligence agencies be damned; it’s all a pathetic liberal fantasy. If that sounds like Republican logic, well, that’s because it is. They’ve had more than a little help from the GOP, who wanted Sanders as the nominee because he’d be easier (and less expensive) to crush. The Young Turks, an online progressive “news” network that has essentially turned into The Bernie Channel, is Republican-funded. Our wacko splinter faction is a useful wedge for the GOP, who ought to know better than anyone the dangers of letting your lunatic fringe into the big tent.

For decades the far right lurked in the shadows, stockpiling weapons and dreaming of overthrowing the gubmint, and now they literally occupy the highest offices in the land. Steve Bannon’s mission is nothing less than the dismantling of our democratic system and institutions. A similar goal has been expressed to me a number of times by gleeful Bernouts. If we give them any influence or control over our party, where will it lead?

Extremism of any sort is the enemy of progress. Be the radical center.

It may not be fair to lay this monster at Sanders’s door. But he helped birth it, however unwittingly, by courting Independents and Libertarians — and he needs to take an active role in suppressing it.

We can’t afford to lose more Ricky Bests, Taliesin Namkai-Meches, or Micah David-Cole Fletchers. We need them now more than we ever have before.

Image for post
Image for post

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store