The Amateur Authoritarians Of Portland

The protests, demonstrations, and civil unrest that have rocked downtown Portland for more than three months have been steadily moving out of the city center and into residential neighborhoods throughout the city, and on Monday the New York Times released a new report on what it describes as “a more confrontational approach” to the movement. This being the New York Times, the reporting by Nellie Bowles is definitely slanted in its approach to the story, but it’s still worth a read to see how downright delusional some of Portland’s agitators have become in their nightly demonstrations.

The piece begins with the story of Terrance Moses, whose own residential neighborhood was the site of demonstrations not long ago. As Moses tells it, the march was mostly peaceful, at least until the protesters became enraged at the sight of an American flag.

“It went from a peaceful march, calling out the names, to all of a sudden, bang, ‘How dare you fly the American flag?’” said Mr. Moses, who is Black and runs a nonprofit group in the Portland, Ore., area. “They said take it down. They wouldn’t leave. They said they’re going to come back and burn the house down.”

Mr. Moses and others blocked the demonstrators and told them to leave.

“We don’t go around terrorizing folks to try and force them to do something they don’t want to do,” said Mr. Moses, whose nonprofit group provides support for local homeless people. “I’m a veteran. I’m for these liberties.”

Moses is this story’s Everyman; the guy who supports the right to peacefully protest, but can’t see how threatening to burn down someone’s home for flying the stars and stripes is going to advance the cause of equality or justice. On the other side of the issue are guys like Stephen Green, who says that the downtown demonstrations aren’t enough, and that agitators need to confront residents where they live because “we don’t need allies anymore. We need accomplices.”

“It’s one thing if you can see something on TV, but if you can hear it and you can smell it in your house, that brings it home,” said Mr. Green, who grew up in Portland. “We need people willing to say, ‘I’m down to lose this friend because stuff needs to change. I’m down to make my neighbor uncomfortable.’ Being nice wasn’t changing anything.”

The American flag that generated controversy is displayed in Kenton, a neighborhood of Portland with small bungalows, lush front gardens and ripe fruit trees. Weeks after the confrontation, the husband and wife who fly the flag said they were fearful of retaliation from the roving protesters, who had found their phone number.

But they say they will not be intimidated into removing the flag.

“I will not take my flag down,” said the husband, who declined to provide his name in a brief interview.

The same night the protesters came to the couple’s door last month, they marched into Kenton’s commercial district and used restaurant picnic tables as fuel for fires. They collected the colorful wooden dividers the neighbors had recently built for outdoor dining and set those ablaze as well. Mr. Moses and others in the community ran into the protests with fire extinguishers.

Protesters that night broke into the Portland Police Association building and set it on fire. A man was later seen scrubbing the sidewalk graffiti — a popular message was “PPB = KKK,” meaning that the Portland Police Bureau is the Ku Klux Klan.

Mr. Green said that he opposed the destruction of property, but that he also understood it. And he believes, generally, that the more direct protest tactics in residential areas are working because they make the movement more personal, and reveal who truly supports change.If someone is against the movement, they keep their lights off or refuse to raise their fist, he said, adding that taking the debate into homes and to families is essential.

Working to do what, exactly? Create accomplices? It’s not like the nightly excursions into residential neighborhoods have caused more residents to take to the streets. We’re still talking about a fairly small group of several hundred individuals who are responsible for the protests, and the numbers don’t appear to be growing.

What really struck me was Green’s belief that the response (or lack thereof) from residents reveals to these demonstrators who “truly supports change.” If you don’t join the march or raise your fist in solidarity, you’re automatically on the wrong side of history and any damage or destruction that comes your way is justified in the minds of the would-be revolutionaries.

The Times describes a recent evening where black-masked antifa-types gathered at a local park to plan their direct action for the evening. Pamphlets and fliers with topics like “I Want To Kill Cops Until I’m Dead”, “Piece Now, Peace Later: An Anarchist Introduction to Firearms”, and “Three-Way Fight: Revolutionary Anti-Fascism and Armed Self Defense” are handed out to the small crowd, who eventually decide that the neighborhood around the park is too diverse a location for a protest.

Instead, the crowd commutes in cars to a neighborhood about 20 minutes away where they reassemble and begin their late night demonstrations.

Neighbors in impressive Craftsman-style homes pulled down their shades and turned off their lights, though many could be seen peering out of dark windows. One woman stepped out of an expansive home looking angry; upon seeing the crowd, she quickly retreated indoors. A few young couples stood in their doorways. A Black woman driving past honked and cheered.

One white man stepped onto his patio clapping and hollering in support of the passing march. The group called for him to join. He smiled and waved them on, still clapping. They began to chant that he was spineless. He looked worried. But the march moved along, and he went back into his house.

“You’ll never sleep tight, we do this every night,” the protesters chanted.

Every night. And so far, at least in Portland, the amateur authoritarians have faced zero consequences for their attempts to intimidate residents into compliance. No arrests, but instead the tacit approval of feckless city leaders like Mayor Ted Wheeler.

It’s easy to imagine what the reaction from the Times and the Left would be if the politics were reversed and a couple hundred Trump supporters were loudly and proudly marching through these neighborhoods every evening, threatening to burn down the homes of people displaying Biden/Harris signs. They’d be called Nazis and brownshirts, and the press would be full of think pieces decrying the incipient fascism on display. When the Marxists, anarchists, and self-proclaimed Communists do it, on the other hand, it’s a “carnival.”

What happens when the wannabe revolutionaries realize that these marches aren’t garnering the support that they want? Do they escalate even further, or do the demonstrations fizzle out? At this point, I wouldn’t bet on the demonstrators disappearing. An increasing conflict appears to be what these people want, and if you’re not raising your fist in solidarity, they consider you to be an enemy of the people. It’s a recipe for disaster, aided and abetted by the inaction and cowardice of those who are supposedly in charge of the city.