How Portland’s Anti-Fascist Alliances Drove Out The ‘Alt-Right’

With minimal violence and few arrests, a crowd of thousands drowns out a fake 'free speech' rally in the wake of a white supremacist terror attack

"Alt-right" supporters were heavily opposed at rally on Sunday. — Credit: Corey Pein
Jun 05, 2017 at 12:56 PM ET

PORTLAND, Ore. – Leading up to Sunday’s “Trump Free Speech” rally, Kyle Chapman, otherwise known as “alt-right” star “Based Stickman,” urged his followers to “smash” political opponents “on sight.” By the end of the Portland rally, the first potentially volatile event of its kind since a white supremacist killed two men defending young women from hate speech last month, Chapman fled in humiliation after being vastly outnumbered, unheard and denied the opportunity for the kind of street violence he promotes against opponents of President Donald Trump.

More importantly, no one was killed or seriously injured at a heavily policed face-off between out-of-town, “alt-right” agitators and local anti-fascists known as the Antifa, who showed up to drown them out on Sunday. A few hundred Chapman fans filtered out of downtown Portland’s Terry Shrunk Plaza with anxious looks on their faces, obviously lost, looking for where they parked their cars. Some were escorted by police and trailed by hecklers shouting, “Nazis out!”

Despite raw emotions and fears of further violence following a white supremacist double murder on May 26, Portlanders mobilized the largest anti-fascist demonstration in the United States in recent memory during Sunday’s “Trump Free Speech Rally.” They did so at a crucial time, nine days after the double murder, and about a month after a “free speech” rally attended by the alleged murderer, Jeremy Joseph Christian, a known white supremacist.

While the organizers of Sunday’s rally in Portland publicly disavowed Christian at every opportunity, not everyone who showed up for the event shared the view that Christian was a terrorist. A man with a sign tying Christian to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders found himself on the defensive, blaming the news media for misrepresenting the “alt-right” and adding that the “alt-right” movement did not condone hate.

“Why doesn’t your sign say, ‘Empathy for the people of Portland’?” a counter-protester angrily demanded.

Another attendee, Brian Fife of Salem, Oregon, told the Guardian that Christian “did everything right up until the point he started killing people,” and praised Christian for “calling out the changing elements of our culture” by harassing those young women on the train, one of whom was Muslim.

With “alt-right” live-streamers boasting from their grassy safe space about the accomplishments of white men through history, the rally devolved into a pity party.

“People with conservative beliefs are being oppressed,” Chapman said when he took the stage, according to the Willamette Week.

It was impossible to hear the stage speakers’ remarks from the sidewalk outside. Instead, what came through were chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “Racists, murderers, fascists out of Portland!”

One dubious aspect of these pro-Trump “free speech” rallies is that they demand unquestioned respect for their message. Pat Washington, an “alt-right” YouTube star known as “Based Spartan,” told reporters that “our speakers have a right to say what they want, and not be exposed to this shit across the street.” (That’s not how free speech works.)

“God, I hate them,” Washington continued. “I look over there and I just want to smash.”

‘They’re Afraid’

But Washington didn’t get to “smash” any Portlanders, as the Trumpists were vastly outnumbered and encircled throughout the day. Press accounts settled on a 10-to-1 ratio in favor of the counter-protesters, but some attendees boasted that it was more like 20-to-1.

Not everyone felt safe enough to show up. Rev. Jesse Jackson visited Portland on Saturday to urge people not to show up to confront racists at the Trump rally. A circle of Buddhists meditated around a monument two blocks from the Trump rally, sending protective vibes to the assembled antifa.

“Many would like to join the anti-fascists, but they’re afraid,” a spokeswoman for the Buddhist group said.

Knowing that images of violence would be used against the counter-protesters to the benefit of the pro-Trump crowd, local Antifa were able to team with black bloc demonstrators to demonstrate a measure of discipline and restraint relative to previous Portland protests. With this restraint in mind, the groups were able to surround the Trump rally on three sides with counter-protesters, boxing them into a fourth side of hedges. The black bloc demonstrators, somewhat uncharacteristically, confined themselves to a park across the street from the Trump rally, facing toward a line of riot police. On the next block over, an even larger rally gathered at Portland City Hall, organized by an array of demonstrators, including more than 70 activist groups, labor unions and religious congregations. Opposite the City Hall, a smaller group of union members calling themselves, “Portland Labor Against the Fascists,” stood with banners and bullhorns.

But even with the relative discipline, the police, citing unspecified “criminal activity,” charged the park held by the black bloc demonstrators. Riot police kettled perhaps 100 of the masked protesters, including a number of journalists. In total, 14 arrests were made, with police announcing that others might be charged with crimes in the future after prosecutors review video evidence.

While some activists criticized the Portland Police Bureau’s response as “protecting fascists,” law enforcement placing themselves in between the two groups prevented a potential melee and what could have been a much uglier situation.

‘Security’ For Far-Right Rallies

Sunday’s rally was the latest example of the kind of brute force faced by people who publicly gather in opposition to Trump and those who feel emboldened because of him.

A small crew of burly Trump die-hards have been touring the country almost nonstop since April, physically confronting liberal and leftist dissidents, and acting as “security” at far-right rallies featuring Islamophobic, misogynistic, and white supremacist speakers. It’s an open question whether these individuals are financed purely through their own crowdfunding campaigns, or through some other source. At least one member of these groups received a gift from a Trump campaign operative days after scuffling with protesters. Another filmed himself rolling in money, bragging about collecting $100 bounties for knocking out the teeth of Antifa protesters.

In Berkeley, California, these far-right protesters mixed it up with students, using projectiles and sticks, which is how Chapman earned his “Stickman” nickname. In recent events in Portland and New York, they laid out a young man and a teenage girl, respectively.

A Creepy Presence

Portland was lucky. While Christian had a few admirers in the “free speech” crowd on Sunday, he did not have any imitators.

Locals who toured the “alt-right” rally were struck by the sheer nerdiness of the attendees, with their Pepe paraphernalia, Kekistan references and beer guts. However, they were equally creeped out by the presence of surly bikers anrd militiamen, such as the Oath Keepers, an anti-government, far-right organization.

At one point, black bloc protesters pelted the police line with what appeared to be used tampons. A photographer even saw one of the Oath Keepers pick up a tampon from the ground and sniff it, as though he were tracking a deer on the hunt.

“Smells like animal blood,” the Oath Keeper said.