Unpacking Portland 2020
July 29, 2020, Portland Oregon had its first night of civil rest during peaceful protesting. For nearly a month straight, Portland has been on the nightly news and Twittersphere. The pictures were full of tear gas, rubber bullets, and accusations from the citizens of Portland up to Trump himself.
To understand the month of July, firstly, we have to understand what happened at the end of May and beginning of June.
Portland erupted into protest over George Floyd’s murder in Minnesota. In true Portland fashion, the protests commenced immediately, following the demonstrations occurring in every state. Demonstrations were peaceful until May 29.
Protestors marched down Martin Luther King to Burnside after a gathering at Pennisula Park. The marcher’s numbers grew as the protestors crossed the Burnside Bridge. The march was to the Multnomah County Justice Center. Busines windows were broken, graffiti was sprayed, and vehicles were burned. The riot would last a total of 5 hours, with two officers injured and 13 people arrested.
June 14, demonstrators pulled down the statue of Thomas Jefferson. June 18, demonstrators pulled down the statue of George Washington.
City commissioners voted 3–1 to make cuts to the Portland Police Bureau by fifteen million dollars. Five million dollars was allocated to the Portland Street Response. The police Commissioner, Chloe Eudaly, would be the only no vote.
The same day, several hundred protestors from Care Not Cops would make their way to Mayor Wheeler’s apartment in protest of not removing even more funding from the PPB. No arrests or injuries were made during the protest, nor was there any violence.
June 23, Jeremy Christian was convicted of murder and attempted murder for the deaths of three men who tried to stop Christian from killing two Black girls while riding on the Max.
June 26, a fence that surrounded the Justice Center came down as the protests and violence in the city decreased. The Rose City was on its way to ending the nearly full month of violence. Protests would continue, but the violence and destruction came close to a halt. Any feeling of relief that residents or city officials were feeling soon be shown to be misplaced.
The popular narrative among Federal and conservative wings was that ANTIFA was responsible for the rioting and looting. President Trump declared he wanted ANTIFA to be designated a terrorist organization. There were two problems with doing this. ANTIFA has no real organizational structure or leadership. Second, Trump couldn’t declare ANTIFA a terrorist organization as they are protected under the First Amendment. The same protections that White Nationalists enjoy.
The FBI investigated the protests and riots in large part of this fear of ANTIFA. The FBI came up empty on any evidence that ANTIFA was responsible and stated, “that fears about such groups may be exaggerated,” as reported by The Nation. That information never made it to Trump nor Barr.
An FBI memo did warn of a group that was calling for action at this time. The FBI uncovered a far-right social media group calling for their members to take to the streets to assault federal agents and use weapons against protestors.
FBI memos also confirm reports that these same right-wing agents were disguising themselves as protestors and feeding the fire to vandalism and destruction. These same organizers were also spreading false rumors that “ANTIFA is coming to your town.” Klamath Falls, Oregon, would be one of those targets.
June 6, Klamath Falls had been notified that ANTIFA was bussing in protestors to their town. Klamath Falls responded immediately with their own group of residents organizing in their downtown. The residents showed up armed and ready for ANTIFA to show up.
Frederick Brigham, a Klamath Falls resident, and a Black man said he heard about ANTIFA and BLM protestors showing up. He thought to himself that he would never see that in Klamath Falls, where nine out of ten residents are white. When he arrived at the downtown scene, “It felt like walking through an enemy war camp,” he said. Klamath Falls was not the only town in Oregon to get a false alarm.
Facebook and Twitter were able to identify and shut down some of the online groups pretending to be ANTIFA and stoking fear. Messages on Facebook stated that ANTIFA and BLM were going to move to their towns and take over. These were the same groups using Telegram to encourage their members to attend protests posing as ANTIFA.
Facebook became a breeding ground for stories that ANTIFA was “coming to your town”. One post from DC Dirty Laundry was shared more than 1000 times, including groups from Trump, Candace Owens, and Rush Limbaugh.
The media stuck with the narrative from the Federal government that ANTIFA was behind the violence and destruction, mainly because the uncovered memo about the right-wing groups were not widely covered.
For the entire month of June, right-wing anarchists and Whtie Nationals were playing on the publics’ fears and joining in the fray of violence. Still, the violence was waning in Portland.
The calm that Portland residents and officials were hoping for in July would be short-lived.
July 1–2, the famed Elk statue was set on fire but not damaged, the structure holding it was. The Elk and another statue would be removed.
July 2, Trump would release the Department of Homeland Security to Portland to “protect statues.” Oregon Governor Brown nor Mayor Wheeler asked for the intervention or welcomed it. Crowds had been waning, and the month-long work in the community was taking shape.
July 4, protestors marched from Portland University’s Native American Student and Community Center as a show of support to the BLM movement. A motorcycle group called Revolution Hall would ride in support as well.
Over the course of the month, the City of Roses was under a constant and nightly battle between protestors and police officers. What can only be called a fight between civilians and Federal and local officers, the line between peaceful demonstrators and potentially violent rioters was unrecognizable to the Federal response team.
A doctor wearing a white coat, carrying a Red Cross sign, was injured by Federal officers. Donavan La Bella was shot in the head by a nonlethal bullet that has left him with permanent brain damage. La Bella had no weapon nor threatened any officer. Federal agents destroyed medical supplies for protestors, which is against the Geneva Convention.
Portland hospitals were treating burns, head injuries, and broken bones. As the violence escalated against the peaceful protestors, Moms Against Violence took shape in Portland. Then Dad’s showed up with leaf blowers after Moms were being victimized. Health care workers arrived when volunteer medics and supplies were damaged.
Christopher David, a Navy Veteran, approached police with his hands in the air with a simple question about the oath they took. He was beaten with batons and pepper-sprayed. David didn’t fight back and walked away with broken bones in his hands. The next day, the wall of vets showed up as did more protestors.
Not only could the FBI not find evidence of ANTIFA, neither could local news stations after analyzing the nearly 200 arrests. What they found was a group of people who mostly had no prior arrest records or connections. The majority of the arrests were not for felony charges, but misdemeanors.
Most consistent of all was the same lack of ties to ANTIFA that the FBI had found.
July 28, would mark the last night of violence in Portland. Even though Trump stated he would not leave Portland, DHS was gone. July 29, protests happened, the violence did not. No fires we set. No one was sent to the hospital. The Oregon State Police took over guarding the Federal Courthouse. The OSP mostly stayed out of view of the protestors. No tear gas was fired.
Could the resolution be from silencing the right-wing voices posing as ANTIFA? Could the resolution be from no police attacking protestors? Could the resolution be from Trump’s forces withdrawing? It will take time to unpack what happened in Portland.
Author of New America: Awakenings