A conservative writer was injured over the weekend at a rally in Portland, Oregon, kicking off a tidal wave of right-wing complaints about violence on the left.
But Saturday’s violence wasn’t an outlier; it was guaranteed. It’s been happening on the same streets, hosted by the same far-right extremist groups, on a regular basis since the election of President Donald Trump.
These rallies are specifically organized for the purpose of violence, with makeshift weaponry and bloodied, tearful faces appearing in Portland with regularity over the years. HuffPost has reported on how far-right extremists who organize them meticulously plan to attack their ideological opponents and then claim victimhood when the dust settles.
We saw the same on Saturday, when the Proud Boys extremist gang hosted yet another one of its street fights in Portland at which there were bound to be injuries.
“The real common thread between these rallies has always been the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, semi-regular insurgencies in a city their leaders don’t call home.”
This time around, it was conservative writer Andy Ngo ― who has 200,000 Twitter followers and a reactionary publication called Quillette behind him ― who was bloodied in the melee by unidentified assailants.
What followed was a flood of hand-wringing from national news outlets on both sides of the political aisle: Fox News on Monday was decrying “Antifa Violence,” alongside CNN’s Jake Tapper, who tweeted over the weekend, “Antifa regularly attacks journalists; it’s reprehensible.”
In an instant, the underlying problem ― that extremist gangs have for years been hosting bloody skirmishes in coastal cities like Portland, often with tacit support from local police ― was lost amid a media circus of pearl-clutching and punditry.
There’s A Pattern, And It’s Not Antifa Violence
It was a similar scene in Portland last August: Proud Boys and their allies in a punch-happy group called Patriot Prayer invited anti-fascist counterprotesters to meet them at the edge of the Willamette River to fight, under the guise of a “freedom” and “free speech” rally downtown.
That arrangement played out as it regularly does ― with blood. Protesters punched Proud Boys in the face, antifa threw rocks and water bottles at police, Proud Boys sprayed antifa with bear mace, and officers put a counterprotester in the hospital, a tear gas canister lodged in his skull.
In June and October last year, the same: Portland declared a riot on June 30 after police allowed Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys to duke it out for a few hours with anti-fascists in the street. Half a dozen people ended up in the hospital, one with a brain hemorrhage. And in October, Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer marched through the streets battling protesters as police reported seeing hard-knuckle gloves, knives, batons and firearms. That same weekend, members of the Proud Boys attacked protesters outside a GOP event in New York City, leading to assault and riot charges for 10 of them.
The dangerous, gory aspect of these rallies is a well-known, regular occurrence, and planned in advance by far-right organizers like the Proud Boys. HuffPost reported on the group’s private online planning in May, in which Proud Boys spent months plotting what armor and weapons to bring to maim or kill anti-fascists; which police officers might be sympathetic to their cause; tactics in street fights; and how to assert claims of self-defense if they were to face charges.
The real common thread between these rallies has always been the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, semi-regular insurgencies in a city their leaders don’t call home. The only thing that changes is the number of people who show up to protest, and now the extremists are often outnumbered 4-to-1 by throngs of protesters demanding that they leave.
Everything Else Is A Distraction
A number of stories over the weekend cast the spotlight directly on the victimization of Ngo and the publication he works for, Quillette.
There’s the unproven accusation that antifa had splashed Ngo and others with a cocktail of milkshake and quick-dry cement, followed by claims that anyone who scoffed at the depiction of milkshakes as weapons holds some nefarious relationship with anti-fascists.
Then there’s the matter of Ngo himself and Quillette, a publication determined to connect anti-fascists to violence.
After the incident, some on Twitter pointed to a recent story on Quillette, authored by a fake “extremism researcher,” who claimed that a number of journalists covering the far right were unethically affiliated with antifa ― a claim that numerous outlets quickly debunked, but that led to 14 journalists and researchers being added to a now-deleted kill list on YouTube titled “Sunset the Media.”
Quillette’s founder, Claire Lehmann, doubled down on her publication’s false report while defending Ngo on Twitter:
“We were pilloried by left-wing media earlier this month after publishing a piece scrutinising the cosy relationship between a number of journalists & antifa,” she wrote. “But clearly there should be more scrutiny, not less.”
Each of these storylines is a distraction from the wider issue of ongoing, extremist-hosted fights meant to distort the conversation about the rising body count in the name of the American far right and shift the focus onto the anti-fascists who meet them in the street. Since Trump’s election and the rise of extremist groups like the Proud Boys, the number of people killed by anti-fascists at these rallies remains zero.