Analysis Anti-Fascist

Portland: We Went Where They Went — 8/22/21 antifascist mobilization

submitted anonymously –

Reportback and analysis from the militant black bloc in Portland on August 22, 2021.

This is a reportback from some of the antifascist crews who mobilized from a rally in downtown Portland to confront proud boys and other white nationalists where they had gathered near Parkrose High School. We don’t speak for everyone who chose to go confront the fascists where they were that day, just ourselves. We are several crews with about two dozen people between us, and this reportback is the product of our discussions about how that day went.

We absolutely do not regret going to oppose fascist violence at Parkrose, but there are many ways we could have been more effective.

Antifascists had been discussing and making preparations for August 22nd for months, but most of the formal organizing behind the publicly announced antifascist event didn’t begin until early August, when a coalition was formed between many antifascist groups in the region.
The coalition put out a call to rally at 1 PM at Salmon Springs Fountain, on the waterfront in downtown. This decision was originally made under the assumption that the fash rally would be located somewhere else along Tom Mccall waterfront park. With most of the park fenced off from Naito parkway (the street running alongside it), Salmon Springs was chosen because it had the most easily accessible entrances and exits. A lot of time was spent by organizers scouting and preparing this spot to maximize safety and options for the 22nd.
On Friday August 20th, Haley Adams posted that the fascist rally location was changing, and that the new location would be announced only a few hours before their rally began. There was clear internal consensus among this coalition to stick with the Salmon Springs meet location. Changing the location on such short notice could cause confusion and hurt turn-out.

At the first spokescouncil meeting, when the coalition was formed, the original plan was to hold an antifascist zine fest. The idea was to attract a very wide range of folks to come out. At that time, organizers were unsure what numbers and level of militancy to expect from the nationalist rally. The weekend after that meeting, antifascists fought back against gatherings on the waterfront that included known fascists on both days. This escalation led the coalition to agree to de-emphasize the “zine fest” in favor of a potentially more militant counter-demo. However, this original, less-militant approach seemed to continue to influence perspectives within the coalition, and there was never clear consensus about specific plans to counter fascist violence.

On the morning of August 22nd, Haley Adams announced that the nationalist rally was to be held in a K-mart parking lot in Parkrose, a neighborhood in NE Portland. When our crews headed out to downtown, the coalition had not seemed to reach consensus on whether it wanted to stay at Salmon Springs fountain on the waterfront, or have antifascists move to NE Portland to oppose the white nationalists gathering there.

We arrived at the waterfront a little before 1 PM. We had agreed to talk to other crews on the ground to reach consensus about going to meet up in Parkrose to oppose the fascist rally there.
Parkrose is a working-class neighborhood that’s home to many immigrants and people of color. The white nationalist rally was planned just blocks away from Parkrose High School, the most racially diverse high school in Oregon, and there are multiple large homeless camps in the immediate area. We stand by the old Anti-Racist Action mantra that “we go where they go”. We will never let fascists rally in our city unopposed.

At 1pm, some of us began starting conversations with other crews about going to oppose the fascists. As time went on, rumors were spread about the fascists forming a car caravan to come downtown. That would have been very convenient, and that made it easy for people to believe. There was no evidence that a caravan would happen though, this was just a rumor. It defied all logic: why would the Proud Boys abandon their rally to go to the only part of town where they would be vastly outnumbered? Still, some crews said they just wanted to wait at the waterfront and see if the fascists would show up there. 

Defending the waterfront made absolutely no sense. The waterfront wasn’t under threat from fascists. Parkrose was, so that’s where we needed to be. We heard concerns that opposing the fascists would be “splitting the crowd”, but we knew that the only place where numbers mattered was where the fascists were. It didn’t matter how many hundreds of people were at the waterfront, if those hundreds just stood around while Proud Boys went attacking people across town. Our suggested meeting spot was Parkrose high school, since we knew the school better than other spaces in the area. We spent about 90 minutes at the waterfront talking to different crews about this, and the most common response was “we’ll go if everyone else does”. We tried approaching some crews as a group of a dozen people to see if folks would feel better making plans with a larger group, but mostly talked to people while split into small groups in order to have more conversations.

We were worried that fascists would start attacking folks in Parkrose and there wouldn’t be enough people there to defend themselves. Some neighbors had already gathered to hold signs and oppose them. At about 2:30, a group of Proud Boys surrounded Rev. Chuck Currie and attacked his vehicle. Other videos showed Proud Boys shooting paintballs at vehicles passing the rally on 122nd.

We became frustrated; many people seemed to care more about “protecting” downtown than they did about Parkrose. Downtown is the capitalist center of wealth in Portland, while Parkrose is one of the poorer neighborhoods, and the way people treated them differently was no coincidence. We tried to talk to some crews about getting together an impromptu black bloc spokescouncil to discuss moving. We thought getting all the crews together in one physical space would make for better communication and decision making. After approaching a couple groups with the spokescouncil suggestion, we got photo confirmation that the proud boys had set up a stage and sound system, and speeches had begun while beer was getting passed out. At this point, it became clear they weren’t coming downtown, and we thought staying longer at the waterfront would just be putting folks in Parkrose at greater risk. We were becoming increasingly frustrated at the rumors and passivity that we saw in much of the crowd. What good is a black bloc of several hundred if it isn’t willing to confront the fascists? We started to leave the waterfront, having only talked to a few groups about a spokescouncil. As we left, we told those we passed where we were headed. We weren’t sure how many other crews were coming with us, but we knew our own numbers would be needed far more at Parkrose than downtown. Our affinity groups each decided that it was necessary to move our numbers to Parkrose. We did not need the permission of every single person at the warterfront to do this. We acted autonomously and we were aware of the risk.

While we understand that people wanted to “defend” downtown Portland, which has been the primary battleground over the last few years, allowing the Proud Boys to go uncountered in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in all of Portland would have had disastrous consequences. We do not regret our decision to stand up to the fascists and let them know they are not welcome in our city.

At about 3pm, a sizable group of bloc had started to form at Parkrose high school. A woman came hurrying up to the group of black bloc, very thankful to see us. She’d just been attacked by Proud Boys and needed water and medical attention. Most vehicles were parked out of the way in the surrounding neighborhood, but some remained in the parking lot. We discussed potentially waiting around for more numbers, but since some folks in bloc had already went towards the fascist rally, we decided that it was necessary to move up and support them. At this point, the black bloc began to head down 122nd to go help. 122nd is a large busy street, and traffic had not been blocked off, so the flow of cars pushed us towards the side of the street and the sidewalk. When we reached the rally, Proud Boys and other fascists started to fire paintballs, pepper-balls, and other less-lethal rounds at the bloc, and attacked with bats, bear spray, and other weapons. Fireworks and paint were used against them successfully. Paint proved to be an effective way to keep the fascists at bay and it caused some permanant damage to their gear. Fire extinguishers filled with paint were especially effective against fascists wearing gas masks, goggles and visors, blocking their vision completely. Without useable eye protection, they weren’t able to withstand pepper spray. Umbrellas also worked well to block paintballs and other less-lethal rounds. Cans of seltzer made for very effective projectiles: a good weight to throw, and they burst when they hit, preventing them from being thrown back. The initial push was successful despite being outnumbered and outgunned. Most of the Proud Boys were still downing shitty beer when we arrived at the parking lot and did not have time to gather weapons, shields, and armor.

There was a short lull after the first push and we used the break to check in with one another and see that the injured folks got medical help. We were approached by a mob of press, which included known alt-right propagandists and livestreamers. The bloc clearly stated that we did not want our pictures taken, for obvious reasons, but none of the photographers respected our wishes. One photographer, Maranie Staab, who openly collaborates with Proud Boy friendly videographer Ford Fischer, became increasingly aggressive and threatened to get people arrested. She walked up to the front of the bloc with her phone camera pointed at people’s faces, and her phone was knocked out her hand by a LaCroix can and taken (lol). She tried to get her phone back, and was covered in pepper spray and paint. Her phone was smashed, and some photographers with her had their camera lenses painted over.

The second clash was less successful. We were outnumbered, and the Proud Boys managed to flank the bloc, forcing a retreat. During this second push, the bloc ran out of almost everything crews had brought. With no more projectiles, fireworks, or paint, and many of our umbrellas broken, we were forced to back up while under fire. Getting flanked had caused the bloc to clump up, and traffic on 122nd crowded us towards sidewalks. This led the bloc to become stacked up in a rough column formation, which gave only a few antifascists at a time the space and position to engage oncoming fascists in close quarters. As we crossed the street back towards Parkrose high school, Proud Boys continued to fire on the bloc and hit multiple cars that were stuck at a red light. Some vehicles remained in the parking lot as the Proud Boys continued to push forward and were destroyed by the fascist mob, others had windows broken as they tried to drive away. A man who was sitting in a pickup truck was badly beaten by a Proud Boy, after he was already bloody from shattered windows. Almost a dozen “press” were standing around capturing the brutal, and potentially deadly assault, but none of them intervened. Fortunately he was able get away, no thanks to the press. A group of black bloc charged the parking lot and pushed back the remaining fascists there so that some folks could get their cars out. After fascists and antifascists separated, the Proud Boys and other fascists quickly left Oregon to go drink in Vancouver. We are confident that they would not have left our city so soon if they had not been physically opposed.

While one group of bloc were taking on the fascists in NE Portland, several hundred people remained at the waterfront to “defend” against rumored fascists that were never going to show up. It turned from counter-protest to festival, with many people openly drinking and hanging out without masks on, even though the pandemic is still in full swing. This is always a recipe for disaster when folks are heavily armed and expecting a fight. Small arguments, which would otherwise be nothing more than verbal disputes, escalate into dangerous situations. The gathering at the waterfront devolved into a series of avoidable and frankly reprehensible confrontations with individuals that either appeared to be in mental health crisis or were otherwise not a threat to anyone. Shots were exchanged with one racist in downtown, before he was arrested by police. This was certainly a real threat to people’s lives, but hardly the type of threat that a 200-300 person black bloc is suited to deal with.

Countering the fascists where they were was the right choice, and we are glad that we did. However, there are many ways we could have been more effective.

In the original organizing coalition, folks should have been more proactive in asking specific questions about shared expectations for the day. Furthermore, there should have been more of an effort to create communication and decision making structures beforehand that could function on the ground in real time. There was no clear agreed upon structures for rapid decision-making among the entire demo at the waterfront, leaving crews to try to create those in real time on the ground. The coalition also didn’t create sufficiently detailed contingency plans for the different possible situations that day, which could have made it easier to take action as a larger, more cohesive group. To do these things, the coalition should have been put together much earlier than 2 weeks in advance of the demo.

A lot of discourse around the location change of the fascist rally celebrated the move to Parkrose as a “win” for antifascists. Many described Parkrose as on the “outskirts” of Portland, and emphasized that the rally was at an old K-mart building instead of the waterfront as a way of saying that the fascists had left an important part of town for one that didn’t matter. Fuck everyone who contributed to this. Parkrose is as important, if not more, than the empty storefronts and luxury apartments of the downtown waterfront. We must break the habit of not militantly opposing fascists when they gather outside of downtown Portland. Every single neighborhood is important to defend against fascist incursion.

Most people do not bring cellphones to protests, and for good reason, but sometimes this can lead to a lack of accurate information, creating an environment where misinformation can flourish. Future events should include designated individuals who can update the group with the latest accurate information about fascist and law enforcement activity, and pass that on to the black bloc on the ground. While there were effective communications circles present on the 22nd, most black bloc crews weren’t looped into them. Had everyone known that the Proud Boys were setting up a stage, the myth that they were “coming to us” may have been quashed more easily. People also claimed, without evidence, that the Proud Boys were preparing to “caravan” to the waterfront. Rumors are a constant threat to our ability to act decisively and effectively, and everyone needs to be vigilant in stopping their spread.

We mostly approached groups at the waterfront with crew-to-crew discussions, or in even smaller groups. We thought that this would allow us to have more conversations in a limited amount of time. However, these isolated conversations didn’t give many crews the confidence that we would have sufficient numbers, which paralyzed decision-making. From the beginning, we should have been proactive in creating a physical space where all the crews willing to discuss opposing the fascists could have a conversation about it, and we shouldn’t have given up on our attempt to do this as quickly. By getting together all crews interested in opposing the fascists, we would have created a physical expression of our numbers, and let folks see around them the comrades who would have their back. This should have happened twice on the 22nd: once at the waterfront to discuss moving to counter the fascists, and once again in Parkrose after the black bloc had gathered again. These would have created greater cohesion, led to quicker and more effective communication, and likely a much larger black bloc opposing the fascist rally.

The bloc was too clumped together at times, which made it difficult to fend off attacks by the fascists. In order to avoid standing in the middle of 122nd, the bloc stuck to the sidewalks, but this allowed the fascists to sneak around the edges and force a defensive retreat. The tightly packed bloc made it easy for the fash to hit people with paintballs, especially after the umbrellas fell apart. In the future, more thought should be given to spacing so that we can avoid getting flanked and individuals have space to throw projectiles without hitting another person in bloc. If the bloc had taken up more space and formed a wider front line, we could have more easily engaged the fascists in close-quarters instead of mostly ranged combat, especially once we ran out of paint and projectiles.

Everything we brought and used against fascists proved effective, we just could have used more of it. After the Portland Police Bureau announcement that law enforcement would not take a proactive approach to controlling the 22nd, antifascists should have taken full advantage of that opportunity to bring gear and equipment that might have otherwise been seized by police. Crews should spend the weeks before planned actions like this gathering, preparing and testing . People should also familiarize themselves with the tactics used by the fascists and work out ways to counter them. For example, paintball and pepper-ball guns have become a go-to weapon for fascists, so antifascists should use umbrellas or another non-cumbersome device to shield the crowd. Some crews didn’t seem to consider how often umbrellas would break, and anyone planning on using one should bring plenty of spares.

Yes, confronting the fascists where they rallied was dangerous, and that should be expected. We cannot push fascism off of our streets without taking risks, and we all knew the risks we took. When fascists rally, we do not have the luxury of hanging back and avoiding all danger. Some crews we talked to on the waterfront told us that they “didn’t want to fight”, and so we did not ask them to. As anarchists, we center our decision-making around freedom of association. We do not need to have every single person agree on what to do, we seek agreement only within the group taking action together. We reject majority rule and democracy, we embrace autonomy. No individual, crew, or formation of crews is bound by the abstract will of the entire collective. We seek consensus between the individuals in crews, and between crews that are working together, but this consensus need not ever extend any further.

We are proud of every antifascist who came out to Parkrose, and of our active opposition to fascist presence in Portland. The black bloc in Parkrose was way smaller than it should have been, but it was tight and effective. We made use of everything we had, we communicated really effectively under pressure, and we got a lot of fascists hurt and running. If we had not been there, the Proud Boys and other fascists would have stayed in Portland far longer, and would have attacked people way less prepared than we were. There can be no safe space for fascism in our town, or anywhere.

We go where they go.

Never cede the streets.