On the Ground in Portland, OR July 2020
From Roger Leigh, co-owner, of the CST:
Greetings from ground zero. I write this now, sequestered in my safe room. I eye my stockpile of rations and ammo piled in the corner and wonder how long they might last....
Well, at least that's the type of scenario many are expecting to hear from Portland residents. I've had several friends concerned about how we are faring here, and have seen many people posting online about how Portland has become overtaken by violent anarchists who are turning the city into a Sarajevo-like war zone (most of those folks are out-of-towners have no direct knowledge of what's going on).
The situation here is deadly serious, but not in the way most are portraying it.
I'll answer a few questions I keep getting:
Q: Why are the feds in Portland - was the situation spiraling out of control?
No, quite the contrary. By almost all measures, in the week before the federal troops arrived the protests here were winding down. Though there were still peaceful groups popping up around town, the hardcore nightly crowd at the justice center (the subject of everyone's focus) had dwindled, confrontations between protesters and police were not escalating as quickly as they had in previous weeks, and there was very little continued vandalism and no serious looting events (Well, I did have a friend post that they were in an auto parts store away from downtown, and when a person ran out of the store with something they shoplifted, someone else called them "fucking protesters"). Of course, now that the feds are here, there are tons of people in the streets again, which I believe is by design (more below).
Q: Is the city a war zone?
Outside of a very small area downtown, you would not know any of this is going on here. There are many businesses that are boarded up, some in response to the rash of looting in the first week, but many others just because they did not want to remove all valuables from their businesses that are closed due to the pandemic. By the police departments own figures, crime is DOWN in this city from pre-pandemic levels.
In my own neighborhood, I have heard the protests only one evening, when there was a peaceful gathering outside the east police precinct about a half mile away - and then it was only the police announcements to disperse that rang through the night.
Q: But you admit there has been looting and vandalism - don't you care about that?
Sure, I hate to see that. This is a beautiful city, and I am both a property owner and a small business owner that has dealt with vandalism in the past. My business is now completely closed due to the pandemic, so there's rarely anyone on site.
I also don't think these incidents are strategically valuable tactics. As MLK said "a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt".
But if there's one word that keeps coming up in my mind as I follow local events (well, one beyond the swear words) it would be "disproportionate". In almost every interaction between citizens and enforcement authority figures, there is a ridiculous gulf between the actions of the former and the response of the latter.
Q: But aren't there any Antifa activists or violent anarchists involved?
Truthfully, yes, there is a handful of people who turn up at these events looking for the chance of a violent confrontation with police, or an opportunity to take advantage of the chaos. They are the same folks that have also hijacked many peaceful anti-war protests. But we are talking about an extremely small group, especially as a percentage of the crowd. It's probably comparable to the percentage of sports fans that would riot and misbehave after a large championship event, and certainly smaller than the percentage of irresponsible gun owners (which are not supposed to affect our perception of the rest). I think the "antifa" label is meaningless, since there is no actual organization - it is used as a wide brush to paint the whole crowd.
I won't even go into the white supremacy groups or police undercover personnel that are egging on or even directly responsible for some of the destructive behavior, though that is reasonably well documented.
Q: How can you justify the lawless behavior or attacks on police, even if it comes from a select few?
First of all, I don't. I do not condone any violence, full stop.
I do, however, believe that the threat imposed by armed, combat-ready law enforcement personnel as well as some of the police tactics used both provoke a more violent reaction from a crowd, and in many cases it would be appropriate to consider the crowd reactions to police as self-defense.
Look at the government's own list of incidents released by DHS - the press release starts with, "“The city of Portland has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city." So many of the following unconfirmed entries are along the lines of "violent anarchists graffitied... ". Does that really sound like an organized revolt that requires a response by armed combat troops?
Where in the DHS list is the action against the police that shows a coordinated organization and a serious threat to national security that would require federal soldiers (I know they are not literally from the armed forces, but for all practical purposes...).
Again, is the response proportionate to the reported incidents?
Q: So who IS out there protesting?
Not me - and I do say that with some regret. I am still trying my best to avoid exposure to the virus, largely for my wife's sake, who has several pre-existing conditions that might create serious consequences with a case of Covid-19 (though she has also been pushing for us to go).
I have many friends and acquaintances who are out there regularly, and they are from all walks of life. Most are young (under 40, young to me).
In the last couple of nights, there has been a group of mothers and grandmothers who thought they could act as a non-threatening shield to protect the crowd, chanting “Feds stay clear! Moms are here!”. They were gassed.
There was the 53-year-old Navy vet who tried to talk with the federal officers and got a beating that left him with two broken bones.
There was the "naked Athena," scared off the troops with yoga and proved that we're all not pasty gamers in the NW.
Many people are out there chanting, singing and dancing, carrying threatening signs like "Chad Wolf listens to Nickelback". Some are there to providing food and services to the protesters and the homeless (despite several police raids, "Riot Ribs" is doing a phenomenal job).
Q: Don't most of these kids not even know WHY they are there?
People constantly disparage the youth of this country in general, and claim that these protesters are "spoiled white kids that don't know the first thing about BLM or civil rights." Well, it is true that the crowd skews white (it is Portland). And there are certainly some young people that have only recently started paying attention. But my experience with young people in this town has left me with a very different impression of their political awareness, and I will put up good money any day of the week for a fair contest on civics, politics or history knowledge with a random selection of a team of protesters vs. the general public (and I'd give 3-1 odds against a team selected from MAGA rally attendees).
Q: But if all this is true, why are there riots every night?
Well, they were not calling them riots at first (aside from the very big initial event), because even the police didn't characterize them that way. When the governor and Oregon AG said that the police had to stop using tear gas unless the crowd posed a significant threat to public safety, like in a riot, all of a sudden we had nightly riots.
And again, so much of that is a disproportionate response to actions like "touching the fence" around the justice center. DHS Chad sent out a picture of an officer's bloodied shin saying that it was a violent slingshot injury that required four stitches, but frankly my leg was much uglier looking after some yard work the other day. Certainly there have been a few rocks thrown and the occasional laser pointer aimed at the police, and again, I do not condone that behavior.
But there are so many reliable reports of SERIOUS physical injury to the protesters. There are so many videos showing grave police overreach with the crowds. There are tactics employed that are designed by default to trap and injure people in the crowd. There are several recorded incidents of third parties attacking protesters with cars that were ignored by police.
There's Donovan La Bella, who was standing holding a radio over his head, and was hit in the face with a "non-lethal" munitions shell. He was in the ICU last week with skull fractures, not sure about his status now, but his injuries will be life-long.
Q: But why does any of this matter to me?
The police here and elsewhere are regularly using flash bangs (which can permanently damage hearing), teargas/pepper spray, and swinging batons to disperse peaceful crowds, often without the required warnings. They have threatened high intensity audio devices and other war zone weapons, and it will only be a matter of time before their use is "justified".
The federal troops, who are reportedly Border Control personnel (the folks who brought you "kids in cages"), are unidentified as such and wear no identification. They have been driving around in unmarked Enterprise rental cars abducting protesters (Think of that the next time you see the Enterprise ad "We'll pick you up!"). Some have been questioned by FBI and released, others have been charged with federal crimes to remove the local jurisdiction for prosecution.
There have been repeated attacks on clearly identified journalists.
Nightly we have small planes circling the city overhead, providing some sort of surveillance. No one is sure who is doing this or what equipment is being used.
It is clear that these actions are intended to inflame and divide the country culturally, and it is more than an idle threat at this time to extrapolate this behavior forward. The president himself says he'd like to see them doing the same things in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, Oakland and other cities "all run by radical democrats".
It is no longer a wild conspiracy theory to think that these are the exact tactics that would be used if there is national unrest after a contentious and challenged election.