If you’re a regular reader you’ve heard of Gregory McKelvey before. Last year, a woman named Sarah Iannarone ran for mayor of Portland against Mayor Ted Wheeler. Iannarone made news for repeatedly defending Antifa, even as the group was rioting on a weekly and sometimes a nightly basis. Her campaign manager in that effort to become the city’s “Antifa mayor” was Gregory McKelvey. And as I pointed out at the time, both Iannarone and McKelvey seemed to be announcing themselves as communists.
"I am a communist"
This is the campaign manager for Sarah Iannarone, who is up for election to become Portland's next mayor. She is currently polling double digits ahead of @tedwheeler. #antifa https://t.co/hF8U3ua5H1 pic.twitter.com/RenLroZMQH
— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) October 6, 2020
Keep that in mind because it helps explain where McKelvey is coming from. Wednesday, Willamette Week interviewed McKelvey about his take on the most recent Antifa violence in Portland. Just over a week ago, a crowd fought with police then marched to the Democratic Party HQ where they smashed windows and spray painted “F**k Biden” on the walls. McKelvey says we shouldn’t get too upset about that. We just have to understand that these young people believe the world is ending:
As for the protests now, I think there are a few things the average Portlander does not understand. For generations like mine and the one after, we have been told our entire lives that the world is about to end if nothing is done immediately, and that all of the evils of our world—climate chaos, racism, the ills of capitalism, and more—are all inexplicably linked. In my mind, and the minds of protesters, these things are objectively true. So if a young person is told the world is ending, and then told to sign up to testify or to go vote, that does not seem to meet the urgency of the moment…
Honestly, I think in some cases the goal has been explicitly revenge—for night after night of tear gas, beatings, disparate policing, and PPB protection of ICE detention centers. However, again, we must put ourselves in the minds of someone who probably rightfully believes the world is ending or, at a minimum, is on the brink of being unrecognizable with incredible amounts of death, pain and climate chaos.
If the world is ending, some people are going to act like it. It’s amazing to me that liberal Democrats really do believe that we are on the brink of something like Armageddon and then are shocked that some people behave like it. What did you picture Armageddon to look like? Public testimony?
McKelvey admitted that breaking a window to stop the end of the world doesn’t make much sense, but said for some people it’s all they have:
These same kids are taught in school during school-shooter drills that once the shooter has entered, you throw everything at the suspect. Does throwing a book at a school shooter help? Probably not, but you can’t blame people for feeling like it is all they have. For older generations, did hiding under a desk for nuclear bomb drills make sense? No, but it is all you have.
Does breaking a window to stop the end of the world make sense? Probably not, but for some it feels like it is all they have.
As much as I disagree with McKelvey politically, I actually think he’s on to something. The people who are rioting in Portland and Seattle are extremists but they don’t exist in a vacuum. They are reacting to a set of ideas which seem to amount to a hopeless situation. Essentially, we’re seeing the fringe of people who actually believe the stuff progressives have been saying for decades. If the world is ending, what do a few windows matter?
The problem of course is that the world is not ending. There is less systemic racism than there was 100 years ago or even 50. Capitalism has created some problems but has also lifted tens of millions of people out of extreme poverty. And climate change is not going to destroy the world in ten years. It may create some real problems several decades from now if we do nothing, but the world is not ending. And we don’t need to make the human race extinct to save the planet.
It seems to me that’s the message that ought to be given to young people, i.e. we have some serious long term problems to deal with but many things are improving and will continue to improve if we don’t panic and act like we have a decade to live. But for an increasing number of people, a cynical, hopeless view of the world seems more appealing. And that view is hard to escape once you’ve embraced it, though some people do manage it.
Earlier this month a group of Trump supporters marched to the U.S. Capitol convinced that America was ending unless someone could “stop the steal.” They acted on their beliefs and the result was a riot in which several people died. Hopefully you see the similarities to what has been happening in Portland.
I know that Antifa and the Capitol rioters are polar opposites politically, but they also have a lot in common. Smashing windows at the Capitol or smashing them at the Democratic Party HQ aren’t so different. These are fringe groups who’ve become firmly convinced of things that aren’t true. So on the one hand, the election wasn’t stolen. Biden won and we should all act accordingly. On the other hand, the world is not ending in 10 years and capitalism is not evil. Our descendants will be here in 100 and they’ll still be making money. We should all act accordingly.
If you pack people’s heads with nonsense (Q anon or Communism), some of them will act as if the world is ending. That’s not helpful in trying to deal with the real problems we have.