Saturday, 18th August saw the latest in a series of flashpoints for extremist right-wing gatherings in the city of Portland, Oregon with members of the hate group ‘Proud Boys’ rallying in the Streets. Roughly 500 members of the group attended the Portland rally on this occasion, with an estimated 1200 counter-protestors also in attendance. According to the Guardian, the day was relatively peaceful due to a heavy police presence, but still not without confrontation. Thirteen arrests were made in total, with one person ending up in the hospital. The Southern Poverty Law Centre designate Proud Boys a hate group because they describe themselves as ‘western chauvinists’ and have a history of members and leaders being heavily involved in violent rallies including the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Before the rally, President Trump tweeted his only statement so far, saying “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!” He hasn’t commented on the actual Proud Boys rally yet. Portland Mayor, Ted Wheeler, addressed Trump’s comments, saying that “frankly, it’s not helpful. This is a potentially dangerous and volatile situation, and adding to that noise doesn’t do anything to support or help the efforts that are going on here in Portland.” In the words of counter-protest organizer Effie Baum, those who Trump called terrorists were actually “a very diverse coalition of people who turned out to say that hate is not welcome here.” After the rally, Proud Boys leader Joe Biggs reflected on the day, stating “Go look at President Trump’s Twitter. He talked about Portland, said he’s watching Antifa. That’s all we wanted. We wanted national attention and we got it. Mission Success.”
Biggs’ statement is chilling. He has unequivocally stated that President Trump has helped them out. Given who the group are, with the track record they have, this should never be the case. Trump did not just amplify the rally, he openly stated that those who protest the hate group are the terrorists. Protesting against fascism (Antifa stands for Anti-Fascist) should not be seen in this way, and the fact that the President does is of great concern. He hasn’t condemned the mission of the hate group in any way.
Portland has a history of extreme-right rallying, with neo-nazis prevalent in the 1980s, culminating in 1988 with a gang killing an Ethiopian immigrant, Mulugeta Seraw. Proud Boys have threatened that they’ll be back in a month if laws regarding Antifa aren’t implemented – this was the point of their protest. For Trump, this is also not the first time he has declined to condemn white supremacy, most famously in August 2017 referring to “very fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ rally, where one ‘side’ was alt-right and neo-nazis, chanting “blood and soil” who were ultimately responsible for the murder of a protestor, Heather Heyer.
White supremacy and far-right extremism are rising, not just in the U.S.A., but globally. As the supposed leader of the free world, the President is meant to take a stand against that, but it seems too much to ask of him. If Trump continues to evade the issue of white supremacy and far-right terror, then groups like Proud Boys can feel comfortable to continue rallying in Portland and making threats. There has to be a clamp down, immediately.
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