Dueling Demonstrations


I suppose it was a lovely afternoon for dueling demonstrations in the Rose City, a lovely afternoon at any rate, last Sunday when multiple groups of counter-demonstrators gathered in Chapman and Lownsdale squares to voice their opposition to the so-called Trump Free Speech rally in Terry Shrunk Plaza. The two squares and the plaza are park blocks between SW 3rd and 4th avenues across from City Hall in downtown Portland. Mayor Ted Wheeler implored the organizer, Joey Gibson, of the previously scheduled Trump rally to cancel it out of concern that it might exacerbate tensions in the wake of the May 26 MAX murders. Gibson declined.

Gibson claimed the rally had no affiliation with neo-Nazis or the alt-right. Whether that avowal is sincere or disingenuous may be in the eye of the beholder. Be that as it may, individuals of a certain, white-pridester bent associated with neo-Nazis, alt-right, and other white supremacist types were drawn to the event, along with, to be fair, some who wanted to show their support for the president. Support for the president baffles me, but they have every right to assemble peaceably and demonstrate that support. Also among their number were members of "patriotic movement" militia-style groups, ostensibly present in the role of private security force.

Terry Shrunk Plaza is the southernmost of the three parks. Chapman Square is the next block north and Lownsdale a block beyond that. At about 1:00 pm on Sunday afternoon I walked up Main between Chapman and Lownsdale on my way from the bus stop on 2nd to the Park Avenue Café for an espresso and writing session. People were making their way to demonstrations of their choice, things calm and low-key, with the Trump rally not slated to begin for another hour and a half. Most of those gathering in the squares appeared to be ordinary Portlanders, showing up to take their stand against the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric they anticipated would be forthcoming a block to the south. Reports had it that among them were socialists, labor unions, and anarchists. The antifa contingent in black uniforms and masks made its appearance. Five police officers with bicycles struck a nonchalant posture at the northwest corner of Chapman Square.

Confrontation between the groups thankfully came down primarily to dueling slogans, with neither side exactly distinguishing itself by way of wit or profundity: "diversity is a code word for white genocide" contra "Immigrants are here to stay! Nazi scum, go away!" Antipathy and intolerance were mutual. One counter-demonstrator told a reporter, "I'm really not OK with this element having an unopposed platform in our city," he said. (Schmidt, Oregonian). To his credit, Gibson urged his people to be civil (Schmidt). He also called antifa "the strong arm of the mayor" (Bivens, Brown, Willamette Week), a charge that is just fatuous. Alt-right celebrity Kyle Chapman, aka Based Stickman — where do these nimrods come up with this stuff? — boasted of his exploits in Berkeley: "I cracked the skulls of some commies who were attacking us. If that republic is going to stay free, you have to be willing to bleed." (Bivens, Brown)

Toward the end violence broke out between police and counter-demonstrators, initiated for the most part by police according to The Guardian and Willamette Week. The Oregonian/OregonLive reported antifa lobbing water bottles, rocks, and eggs at police and Trumpists. Another report had bloody tampons in the mix of objects hurled at police and agents of the Department of Homeland Security who found reason to be on the scene. Who is one to believe? Maybe most a little bit and with a healthy dose of skepticism, none in toto. At any rate, police declared the rally over at about 3:30 and used stun grenades and pepper balls to disperse the crowd at Chapman Square while antifa pulled newspaper stands into the street. Dozens of weapons were confiscated and 14 arrested.

I cannot find the source for a remark made by an alt-right type after the MAX murders to the effect that the killings were wrong but everything up to that point, to wit, heaping abuse on immigrants and Muslims, including young girls, was right and there should be more of it. This attitude seems to be widespread among the circles gathered at Terry Shrunk Plaza a week ago and today at anti-Sharia, anti-Muslim demonstrations around the country organized by a group with ties to the Trump administration. Initial reports indicate that attendance was sparse, with the anti-Sharia crowds outnumbered by counter-demonstrators. This at least is heartening. That individuals and groups that subscribe to an agenda of intolerance and hatred, amenable to violence and rooted in ignorance, feel free to openly promulgate that agenda is not. It is a safe wager that what those gathered to oppose Sharia law actually know about Sharia and Islam could be writ on of a pin where no angels dance.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, the third of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels, set in the late 1960s and early 1970s, depicts violent clashes between communists and fascists in the streets of Italy's cities. Is that where this country is headed? Might it be already there?

News Reports

Mike Bivens, Karina Brown, Portland Police Fire Stun Grenades and Rubber Bullets into Crowd of Antifascist Protesters, Willamette Week, June 4, 2017

Karina Brown, Alt-Right Skips Town as Portland Dodges Serious Violence in Street Confrontations, Willamette Week, June 4, 2017

Dan Cassuto and Jenna Hanchard, BLOG: Anti-Sharia, pro-Muslim groups clash in mostly peaceful Seattle protests, KING 5 News, Seattle, June 10, 2017

Michel Martin, Amelia Templeton, Pro-Trump Rally In Portland Is A Flash Point Between Opposing Groups, All Things Considered, NPR, June 4, 2017

Brad Schmidt, Dueling Portland rallies end without major violence, but police intervene, The Oregonian/OregonLive, June 5, 2017

Jason Wilson, Member of Portland militia-style group helps police arrest anti-fascist protester, The Guardian, June 8, 2017

Jason Wilson, Portland's Dark History of White Supremacy, The Guardian, May 31, 2017

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