From the July-August 2017 issue of News & Letters
Portland, Ore.—On June 4, by the time my friends and I arrived downtown near Terry Schrunk Plaza where the fascists planned their “Free Speech Rally,” Donald Trump’s supporters were trickling in while the counterprotesters were already out in huge numbers. Later reports said the fascists were outnumbered ten to one.
To the south in Chapman Square, a strong showing of anti-fascist groups watched the police who had shown up in militarized riot gear and were staring down the counterprotesters. Cops dictated that people could only cross Madison Street if they were going south, away from the fascists, and took to further traffic control in an aggressive manner.
Inside Chapman Square, antifa groups chatted, shared fruit and popsicles and handed out pamphlets documenting the major white-supremacist players. Featured in the pamphlet was Kyle Chapman, known online as “Based Stickman” due to videos showing him beating anti-fascist protesters with sticks. Chapman organized the rally and invited a who’s who of the fascist, racist community: Proud Boys, Militiamen and Nazis.
The call for these groups to converge on Terry Schrunk Plaza came on the heels of a major public attack in Portland in which Jeremy Christian, a known white supremacist, attacked two women of color on a MAX train, one of whom is Muslim. Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche came to the women’s aid. Christian stabbed them to death. A third man, Micah Fletcher, was also stabbed, but survived. While some decried the attacks as a horrible, stand alone incident, the truth is that white supremacy has existed in Portland and Oregon for some time—until 1926, it was illegal for Black people to even move to the state.
Now, feeling emboldened by a Trump presidency as well as the murders, the fascists were taking to the streets. There were numerous “Make America Great Again” hats, people openly carrying knives in hip holsters, and angry jeering in the direction of counterprotesters. Amongst chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “Nazi scum off the streets,” certain counterprotesters held “All Lives Matter” signs and spurred chants of “USA” in a highly misguided attempt to use nationalism as a deflection against the fascists.
On the west side, workers from a number of labor unions held a banner reading “Labor Against Fascists” and had a sound system shouting down angry white men in the plaza across the street. As one Trump supporter wandered over to the counterprotesters in a “Make America Great Again” hat with a small bullhorn, trying to yell at people face to face, the crowd surrounded him and starting singing in unison, “Move, Trump, get out the way, get out the way, Trump, get out the way!” He lasted for a few seconds before he stomped off.
POLICE PROTECT FASCISM
The Nazis were scheduled to arrive at 2:00 PM, though when they finally made their way to the plaza, there wasn’t a huge uptick in attendance. Some arrived in homemade battle gear and held flags decrying diversity as white genocide, but the main shift came in the police presence.
More city cops and federal police arrived all decked out in riot gear and stationed themselves in front of the antifa in Chapman Square. At 3:30, the call went over the police speakers: Chapman was closed and everyone must disperse. There was no reason given for the shutdown but it became apparent: the fascists were allowed to stay as the police turned their attention and flash bangs towards us, hurtling the canisters into the crowd. They followed that with pepper spray and, while many protesters tried to leave, they were blocked to the north, west and east by police.
Militiamen, though presumably there to attend the fascist rally, were spotted illegally assisting police in subduing counterprotesters during arrests. While the police were enacting chemical and physical warfare on protesters, a few blocks away, fascist ralliers waited by their pickup trucks emblazoned with Trump stickers and chatted with police, untouched by any concern of police brutality, protected by their white supremacy.