Yesterday the New Yorker published a lengthy piece about Antifa in Portland which feels like it was written by someone who set out to write something positive about the group but who, after spending some time with them, couldn’t quite manage it. The first quarter of the piece goes over the history of Antifa groups in the city from the formation of Rose City Antifa and, more recently, the creation of a group called Popular Mobilization or PopMob. The author doesn’t offer much in the way of criticism of the group or its goals. He’s just describing how they formed.
And then we come to August 29th:
It was dark when I arrived downtown. As I parked on a wide avenue in the shopping district, several people in black bloc sprinted by. Turning a corner, I came upon a small crowd facing a police cordon. Behind the officers, a dead body lay in a pool of light.
The victim was Aaron Danielson, a thirty-nine-year-old supporter of Patriot Prayer. He’d been shot by Michael Reinoehl, a forty-eight-year-old white man who—though unaffiliated with Rose City Antifa or PopMob—once wrote on Instagram, “I am 100% ANTIFA all the way!” Reinoehl later claimed that he had fired in self-defense, and a cannister of bear spray and a telescopic truncheon were found on Danielson. At the time, however, nobody in the crowd knew what had happened or who was involved.
Is it true that Reinoehl was “unaffiliated” with the city’s established antifa groups? How does author Luke Mogelson know that? There are videos of Reinoehl on the front lines of previous protests. He was certainly well known to other people on the front lines. It strikes me as odd that groups that welcome like-minded people can suddenly tell a reporter one particular person (who murdered someone) was definitely not part of their group.
After Danielson was shot, Antifa quickly spread the claim that someone had been murdered by a Proud Boy and when some in the crowd identified Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson on the street, a mob showed up and seemed to be escalating toward more violence:
People pressed around Gibson, shouting at him to leave. When he asked, “Why don’t you guys stop acting like Nazis?,” a man in a Young Turks sweatshirt spit in his face.
“Can we stop with the hate?” Gibson said, making no move to wipe off the saliva.
Protesters continued to arrive, and, as the volume and ferocity of their insults escalated, Gibson turned to a blond woman who’d been standing at his side and said, “Let’s go.” A mob of at least fifty young people pursued them. Gibson kept up a show of equanimity until his hat and glasses were snatched away. Soon, drinks were emptied on him, objects were hurled at him, eggs were smashed on him, and he was punched and pepper-sprayed. With the blond woman’s help, he stumbled forward while someone rang a cowbell in his ears and others strobed flashlights in his eyes.
“Kill the Nazi!” someone screamed.
The mob grew. As far as I could tell, all of Gibson’s assailants were white. At some point, several people pushed their way to Gibson and escorted him down the street, keeping at bay the most belligerent aggressors. A short Asian man in a bicycle helmet yelled, “Let him leave, goddammit! Everyone back the fuck off!”
After several blocks, Gibson and the woman ducked into a gas station, and an employee locked the door behind them. The man in the bicycle helmet blocked the entrance, but people smashed the windows and kicked open a side door. Another protester raised his gas mask and pleaded, “He’s a fucking Nazi, but are you going to lynch him?”
The police eventually showed up and the Antifa mob scattered. At this point Mogelson came across a BLM supporter named Rico De Vera who told him, “It pisses me off. People are going to use tonight to say that Black Lives Matter is a bunch of thugs.” Well, yeah, and maybe there’s a good reason for that. Mogelson and De Vera then walked to the Justice Center where a woman with a megaphone was addressing the crowd about the murder that had taken place that night.
Now a young woman with a megaphone told the people at the Justice Center that she had an announcement. “I just got word that the person who died was a Patriot Prayer person,” she said. “He was a fucking Nazi. Our community held its own and took out the trash. . . . I am not sad that a fucking fascist died tonight.”
There’s no direct criticism of Antifa but the description of their behavior doesn’t make for good press. And that continued two nights later when another mob showed up at the home of Portland’s Mayor Ted Wheeler.
As a picnic table from a restaurant was dragged into the street and set on fire, I spotted Najee Gow, a twenty-three-year-old Black nurse, leading chants of “Fuck Ted Wheeler!” I’d met Gow the previous week, when several young women had staged a sit-in in Wheeler’s lobby. Gow, who wore a peacoat over a red-white-and-blue tank top, had been incensed that no African-Americans were included in the demonstration. “It’s what they’ve always done,” he’d said. “Hijack Black people’s movements. This is disgusting.”
As I spoke with Gow near the burning table, we were interrupted by shattering glass. A young white man in black bloc was swinging a baseball bat into the window of a dentist’s office on the ground floor of Wheeler’s building. “That makes me want to beat them up,” Gow said. Like Rico De Vera, he felt that such behavior benefitted only those who wanted to malign Black Lives Matter, and he also worried that it bred general animosity toward Black people: “They’re putting Black lives at risk. African-Americans are constantly out here telling them to stop, but they won’t. So, at the end of the day, it’s, like, ‘Are you racist?’ ”
A white man with a hammer joined the guy with the bat, and together they breached the office. People entered. A loud explosion echoed from inside, followed by smoke and flames. Gow went over to challenge them. While they argued, a blond woman in a hoodie ran up and spray-painted an arrow on the wall, pointing to the broken window. She then scrawled, “This is the language of the unheard.”
Again, Mogelson doesn’t offer any personal commentary but his writing suggests some irony. He’s literally talking with a black woman about Antifa going too far when a white woman scrawls a justification for the destruction that is underway.
The piece continues like this and the author does a decent job pointing out how the commitment to “a diversity of tactics” effectively means that the most violent people present set the agenda each night and most of the rest of the crowd has been primed not to judge other people’s tactics. That came into play on September 5th:
Near the front of the march, I found Rico De Vera, the engineering student, live-streaming with his cell phone. As we greeted each other, a Molotov cocktail was hurled from the rear and exploded a few feet away, just shy of the officers. Flames splashed protesters, and a man’s leg caught on fire. While medics tended to him, two more Molotov cocktails exploded between us and the officers, who discharged tear gas, stun grenades, and impact munitions, scattering the march. A helicopter hovered overhead. People stumbled into side streets, coughing and retching.
Another protesters named Jay Knight told Mogelson, “Molotov cocktails make this side look worse than the cops. It makes people who were on the fence dismiss all of this as criminality.” Again, maybe there’s a reason for that.
Later Mogelson described a Patriot Prayer memorial for Aaron Danielson. There he met David Machado a veteran and a member of the Proud Boys whose parents were Mexican immigrants. Before long, there is another incident of serious violence:
While Machado and I spoke, the other Proud Boys left and headed to a nearby bar. Machado nervously scanned the park. “I don’t wanna be out here all by myself,” he told me. It was broad daylight. A couple pushed a stroller across the grass.
But Machado’s concern later proved reasonable. At the bar, a man began filming Machado and his friends with his cell phone. “He was trying to dox us,” Machado said. After a bouncer made him leave, the man ran over a Proud Boy in the parking lot, fracturing his skull and rupturing his eardrum. The man was eventually arrested and charged with a felony hit-and-run. Although he wasn’t a member of Rose City Antifa, he had shared a social-media post advocating violence against racists.
It’s impossible to read this piece and come away thinking Antifa and their allies are the good guys. There is also some criticism of the Portland Police, but you can’t have murder, vandalism, beatings, arson, vehicular attacks and Molotov cocktails being used on a regular basis as part of a diversity of tactics and still maintain Antifa are victims. The whole piece is worth reading if you have the time.