Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, and Pissed off Portlanders
Today, my city was descended upon by fascists, for the second time this summer. This time, there were all kinds of panicky think pieces about how the rally was destined to turn violent, it was going to become another Charlottesville, and many on the left were encouraging each other to simply “sit this one out” in order to starve the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer members of the attention they so desperately wanted. As any child who survived middle and high school knows, ignoring bullies until they go away is completely unhelpful advice, but as someone working on my history MA, it gets me grumbling about appeasement, Neville Chamberlain, and WWII.
Never one to sit by passively, I worked for a few days in advance with the other two adults in my home to prepare to head out today. I’m disabled and slower than I used to be, and we needed to make sure we had a plan if I needed assistance, and pack my meds so that could keep my hands free. This is all stuff that went into backpacks on top of the bandages, milk of magnesia, water, handkerchiefs, and everything else we, or other protesters, might need. After all, this wasn’t our first rodeo.
Then, I called my 12 year old into the room. She’s a huge kid, nearly five-foot-eight to my five-foot-three. She’ll be thirteen this month, and she’s been involved politically since she was a preschooler. Still, she was old enough to console an older white gentleman who was upset at a phone store, who she assumed was John McCain upset at losing to Barack Obama. She writes her own little political pieces, even though she isn’t old enough for a twitter account, and I asked her if she wanted to come with us, or if she wanted to stay home.
She grabbed her shoes, chose a white shirt with a winged pattern on the back (“that looks like blood from a distance, so I can just drop and play dead if necessary” she reminded me) and tied up her hair. Then she hopped in the Lyft with her dad, our roommate, and I, and we headed out toward downtown. We knew that if we got separated, her job was to run, and he dad’s job was to follow her. My job is to get to safety, and our roommate’s job is to cover me. They carried backpacks and water and supplies for the person they are supporting. I had my phone and my cane. She carried nothing.
At first, we got to watch as these fascists patrolled in their part of the park, waving flags and screaming epithets. Then, the large group of them started moving south on the east side of the street, and the counter-protesters began to parallel them on the west side, with the cops forming a line down the center of the road.
As we hit one of the bridges, the police had stopped traffic in all but one lane, and the drivers were all kinds of furious at their Saturday commute being upended. One man kept revving the engine of his car while swearing at the anti-fascist protesters. I was careful to cross the street with a group and around the man’s gasoline-fueled tantrum, knowing full well how much damage the car could cause to any of us.
Turning onto SW Columbia, we found we’d been blocked from crossing Naito, again, by the police. Men were walking by holding up satirical versions of the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag that simply said “No Step on Snek” while music played. Then it became obvious that the PPB were giving instructions or passing on information, but it was garbled and not clearly understood. We moved a little closer, but out of the main street in order to hear it, and then I had the chance to attempt my first FB live post, as what I could understand was chilling.
The cops had decided that we were a civil disturbance, and we were being ordered to disperse. If we didn’t leave the intersection, we would be subject to arrest, or to percussive/non-lethal rounds. There was no clarification of what they mean by “intersection” (as many people were standing in the actual street). I begin to sign the information (not as an interpreter, but as a hearing person getting info I knew my Deaf activist friends were missing), and then the flashbangs started going off. It wasn’t enough time for me to get any information out. If my family didn’t know what to do, we’d have had no time to plan. I turned, looked at my daughter’s somewhat shocked face (as she’d never experienced a flashbang grenade). She started to run, but slowed down because I’m not that fast.
As she turned back, she saw the folks behind me, all black bloc antifa, trained to resist and walking slowly enough to give us a chance to move out the way, reminding people to walk, not run, and exit in an orderly fashion. She was greatly impressed. The cops continued to hound the counter-protesters all the way up past 4th and Jefferson, with the excuse that “someone” had “thrown A rock.” A. Rock.
I’m pretty sure that hundreds of police in riot gear chasing protesters a dozen blocks, with flash bang grenades, pepper products and more threats of less-lethal rounds, is a bit of overkill for one rock thrown at a guy in armor. Plus, having been there, I saw nothing thrown until after the first flashbang went off.
I ask you, does this look like a measured response to a single rock?
Eventually, everyone ended up walking back down to Naito, and facing off again across from the Salmon street fountain, where police still focused on the anti-fascist protesters instead of the neo-Nazis, even after the permit for the use of the park by Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys was up. When the police chief showed up, she was asked about this, but kept putting her hand to her ear and pretending she couldn’t hear the man taking to her. As protesters weren’t allowed into the street, it seemed disingenuous at best.
In fact, their evacuation, by small school bus, didn’t even begin until after their permit had expired, but one gets the feeling no one will be billing Joey Gibson’s “campaign” for the overtime incurred by PPB.
So, the big question I get is why I would bring my daughter to something like this (besides the fact that she is bigger than I am, healthier to boot, and as a young WOC deserves the right to go protest peacefully). Honestly? My daughter is the age Anne Frank was when she went into hiding. She’s old enough to have been called a “mutt” by some racist neighbors, to be catcalled on the way home from school, and to know that there are people in the world that wish her harm. If she wishes, then, she is old enough to stand up to Nazis.
I want to make it utterly clear that when I say we were dealing with Nazis, what I mean is that we dealing with actual Nazis. People who self-identify with the third Reich. People who call for a white ethno-state. This is not hyperbole. We are talking about folks walking around with SS stickers on their helmets.
As I was explaining to my beloved godmother over the last couple of days, it isn’t about someone wearing a MAGA hat. It’s about someone advocating for the death of my son because he’s disabled, or my daughter because she’s “mixed.” These people are advocating violence and genocide, and how that’s less concerning to folk than yelling “fire” in a theater is an argument I have yet to hear made in an eloquent fashion.
Because the Info-Wars/JoeyGibson/Westboro Baptist/Neo-Nazi/KKK part of the alt-right wants your sympathy so badly. They want you to feel their speech is being stifled, and that they should be allowed to have whatever horrific opinion about how to best go about preserving the white race, regardless of how we literally fought a world war to stop where that train of thought takes us. Because otherwise, the left isn’t being tolerant of their intolerance.
One sign, held up without a trace of irony by a member of the Patriot Prayer group said “Violence Doesn’t Solve Anything.” A hastily made retort sign read “Violence solves Nazis.” — The world, 1945
The best example of this is of Swedish lady Danuta Danielsson. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, she saw NeoNazis marching in the street in 1985, and whacked one with her purse. Instant hero, right? Well, sort of. When an artist wanted to put up a statue of her a few years back, she was told she wasn’t allowed to because…Danuta was the only aggressor in the march. This is a problematic shift in our national discourse, when being a Neo-Nazi isn’t seen as a problematic or aggressive act.
My daughter marches against Nazis, and against fascism. She, and I, are anti those things. That makes us antifa, then.
I close with the best sign we saw today: