Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Proud Boys, White Nationalists and Antifa—One of These Things is Not Like the Other—With Murfin Verse

Proud Boys and Neo-Nazi allies marching in Portland.
The Proud Boys, allegedly White Nationalist litewestern chauvinists” descended on Portland, Oregon over the weekend for what was billed as a “End Domestic Terrorism” march and the largest such demonstration yet of the neo-fascist right.  The frat boys of the so-called alt-right were joined by the harder edged Three Percenters, a patriot movement militia, the American Guard, and assorted officially unaffiliated loners and losers scraped up in neo-Nazi chat rooms on the dark web.  The Domestic Terrorism that they were protesting was not that which has left scores dead in multiple recent mass murder shootings, but the Antifa who have done such despicable things as throwing a milk shake at rabid right Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz, punching alt-right spokesman Richard Spencer, and demonstrating at speaking events.
Portland, a city that The Guardian described as having “a liberal laid-back hippy vibe” was the target of the march for two reasons.  First, it is the home of the largest groupings of the amorphous Antifa which sprang up from a robust local anarchist scene and the Black Block street fighters that first came to prominence in the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) protests up the coast in Seattle.  Secondly, it is convenient the compounds, bunkers, and training camps of the Patriot Militias, White supremacists, and anti-government radicals that dot eastern Oregon and Washington, Idaho, and Montana
The two sides have faced off in Portland before.  As the city prepared for what was expected to be the largest confrontation ever, Donald Trump stirred the pot.  Of course he did.  The Resident Tweeted, “Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an ‘ORGANIZATION OF TERROR.  Portland is being watched very closely. Hopefully the Mayor will be able to properly do his job!”
Not only did the Cheeto-in-Charge not mention or condemn the White Nationalist with a proven history of violence—the Proud Boys were prominent in in the Charlottesville clashes two years ago that left anti-Nazi protestor Heather Heyer dead—but he explicitly endorsed their stated cause much to the delight of organizers Joe Biggs and Enrique Tarrio of the planned non-permitted march.

Proud Boy spokes bigot Enrique Tarrio was the most visible leader to actually make the march.
Predictably much of the American mass media, trained like Pavlov’s dog to spout on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand equivalency in the name of journalistic neutrality, treated the Proud Boys and the Antifa equally “dangerous extremists of the far right and far left.”
In the end Portland Police kept the two sides mostly separated preventing violent clashes.  But the march leaders mostly failed to show up to their own event fearing arrest and left their followers with no plans or support.  They were forced to march back and forth across the long Morrison Bridge over the Willamette and then were steered to a riverfront industrial area where cement barricades police in full riot gear kept them separated from the Antifa who were also largely neutralized except for shouting back and forth.

In one of many street theater performances counter protestors proclaimed "White Flour," "Wife Power," and dressed as hot dogs to mock the white nationalist marchers.
But that doesn’t mean that the marchers were unopposed.  Large numbers of creative and non-violent Portlandians got ahead of both the police and marchers preemptively occupying most of the squares and public places in the downtown area where the marchers could gather with dancing unicorns, clowns, jugglers, puppets and derisive signs.  The counter protests also featured Buddhist and Jewish prayers, speeches, a poop emoji costume parade organized by the PopMob group, and music.  Their mood was joyful and triumphant. Meanwhile the leaderless marchers were steered through hostile minority neighborhoods where they were frequently given wrong directions and where local businesses refused to sell them water or food or allow them to use restrooms.  When they finally found a place to gather the planned three hour rally was cut to half an hour as speakers were drowned out by counter protestors’ jeers, chants, and songs.
The exhausted marchers had to retrace their steps under humiliating police protection and were left where they had to walk additional miles to return to the busses and cars that brought them.  Over the entire day a handful on each side had been arrested, mostly in isolated incidents after the main march broke up.

A lone Black Antifa marched alongside the massive police presence that separated the two sides.
The local press depicted the day as a humiliating defeat for the White Nationalists.  But Proud Boy leaders declared victory anyway and vowed to return to the city with new marches every month with the stated aim of bankrupting the city until the Mayor and Council “cracked down and eliminated the Antifa.”  Blackmail by attrition if you will.
With calls for suppression not of White Nationalists or Neo-Nazis on the rise including legislation in Congress to declare the Antifa as terrorists, comes the difficult question of defining just who Antifa are and who are other opponents of the Right.  Are the Black Block and the Antifa on the streets of Charlottesville, Portland, New York, Boston, the Bay Area, and other places really identical?  Clearly there is some overlap and the cosmetics are similar—the use of black clothing, banners, and sometimes masks.  But the Antifa are clearly much broader and focused more directly on community self-defense and direct confrontation with racist thugs than on mindless rampage.  The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), my old radical labor union and its General Defense Committee (GDC) which have been among the most cohesive and visible elements of the Antifa movement has clearly made that distinction.  Many of those now joining the Antifa movement have no ties at all to the Black Block. 

A typical red and black Antifa flag carried in many actions.
Two years ago in Charlottesville the Antifa were a very visible presence in the protests organized to protest the planned removal of a monument to Robert E. Lee.  They were pointedly not included in Trumps famous declaration that there were “good people on both sides.”  But the Antifa famously came to the defense of religious leaders including Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray and several other UUs who linked arms around the perimeter of the block where the Lee statue stood to prevent the Neo-Nazis from rallying there.  The ministers came under attack and feared for their lives.  They were rescued and protected with masked Antifa including IWW members.  One participant, famed Black scholar Cornel West said frankly.  “The antifascists, and then, crucially, the anarchists…saved our lives, actually. We would have been completely crushed, and I’ll never forget that.”

Antifa including members of the IWW--note flag to the right--to the rescue shielding besieged ministers and religious leaders in Charlottesville two years ago.
A few days later we held a vigil on the grounds of the Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry, Illinois.  A couple of hundred folks showed up on short notice.  As the crowd formed a solemn circle before moving to line Bull Valley Road with lighted candles I spoke.
After remembering the blood sacrifice of 32 year old anti-fascist hero Heather Heyer and the needless deaths of Virginia State Police Lt. H. Jay Cullon and Trooper Pilot Berk M.M. Bates in a helicopter crash responding to the violent chaos unleashed by the organized forces of bigotry, I said that it fell to me to be the voice of anger and outrage.  I was not there to lead a chorus of Kumbaya.  I noted West’s appreciation of the Antifa--the same anti-fascists that Trump and far too much of the media held to be equally guilty for the violence.  And I was moved to recall others who had confronted Nazism.  The poem I wrote and read at the time may have made some gathered that evening uncomfortable.  But it had to be said.

Communists and Brown Shirts brawling in a Munich beer hall in 1932.  No one else physically stood up against growing Nazi power.
Munich and Charlottesville
August 13, 2017

So is this how it felt on the streets of Munich
            when the strutting Brown Shirts 
            in their polished jackboots,
            Sam Browne belts, and scarlet arm bands
            faced the scruffy Commies 
            in their cloth caps
            and shirtsleeves rolled up 
            and battled in the beerhalls,
            parks and streets.

All of the good people, the nice people
            cowered behind closed doors
            and wished it would go away—
                        all of the liberals, the Catholics,
                        the new-bred pacifists of the Great War,
                        the professors and doctors,
                        editors and intellectuals,
                        the Social Democrats,
                        even—my God!—Jews 
                        who had not gone Red—
            a pox on both your houses they solemnly intoned.

Hey, buddy, in retrospect those damn Bolshies
            look pretty good,
            like heroes even.

Things look a little different in Charlottesville,
            in brilliant color not grainy black and white
            and the Fascists can’t agree on a
            Boy Scout uniform and array themselves
            golf shirts and khakis, rainbow Klan hoods,
            biker black and studs and strutting camo.

But the smell, you know, that stench,
            is just the same.

The question is—do you dare be a Red today
            or will you close your doors
            and go back to your game consoles
            and cat videos.

Which will it be, buddy?

—Patrick Murfin

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