The Lie of Portland’s Antifa


There was a time when “anti-fascist” meant what it said. People who opposed fascism called themselves “anti-fascists.” But then the term slipped. The definition of “fascist” became hazy from over-use and so the term “anti-fascist” also began to move. This might seem to be a theoretical matter. But it is one that ends up encouraging and condoning horrific scenes like those in the center of Portland on Saturday.

For some time, self-described “anti-fascists,” or Antifa, have been finding spurious and imaginary reasons for demonstrating in the city. Though these are less like demonstrations than carnivals of civil disobedience, violence and intimidation. One of the very few journalists to have taken an interest in the repeated shutting down of the city center by these groups has been the young journalist Andy Ngo. Despite the police apparently regularly handing over the city to Antifa to do what they want, there has been relatively little coverage of this whole story in the mainstream press. And despite being repeatedly hounded and intimidated by anti-fa, on Saturday Ngo once again went to cover events in Portland.

This time, Antifa went even further than they have before, with several of their number assaulting Ngo, stealing his equipment, and repeatedly smashing his face with weapons and projectiles. It appears that the Portland police once again stood by and allowed this to happen.

There are several things to note here. First, the journalism business is awfully good at patting itself on the back. Whenever some auto-cue reader gets some mild criticism the whole industry goes into full-on “war on the free press” mode and starts handing out bravery awards. But in Portland on Saturday journalism really was under assault, in the form of a mob deliberately targeting somebody who was trying to perform the job that too much of the media fails to do. If the journalism business is interested in a little professional solidarity, now might be the time to express it.

Second, anyone in any doubt over who the fascists and the anti-fascists are today should watch the footage of Ngo being attacked. Might the fascists be the thugs who wear face masks in the middle of the day in an American city and carry out mob assaults on journalists?

Of course there are those who do not think this. According to one C. J. Werleman, it is the journalist Ngo who must be held accountable for his own assault. According to Werleman (a deeply confused figure), Ngo, who is the young, gay child of immigrants, is in fact someone who “was [sic] participated in white supremacist instigated violence.”

If anyone wonders why there are so many qualifiers in that characteristically inelegant sentence, it is because Werleman is trying to excuse an act of actual violence by implausibly pinning a charge of violence on a nonviolent person who has just been violently assaulted.

That’s an especially kooky and uncommon extreme of society that you can glimpse just there. But the truth is that it is also part of a logical continuum from the hysteria that part of America has been imbibing for three years now. If you keep telling people that the fascists are coming, then there will be some people who will believe you. Others will simply use the excuse to go and have what they think of as a good time and violently assault people under the guise of doing good works.

I am sure the Portland police will come up with some excuse for why they keep failing to protect their city and its inhabitants. And I’m sure that most journalists will continue to pretend that violent civil disobedience in the center of American cities in broad daylight is really not worth anyone’s time focussing on. But the real lesson of Saturday is that anybody interested in genuine anti-fascism should from now on aim themselves directly at Portland’s Antifa. These are the people of our day who behave most like fascists. It is high time that they were treated as such by officialdom and civil society alike.

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