PORTLAND, Oregon - For Donald Trump, cities are crime-ridden, infested with rioters and looters, and overseen by liberal mayors who are either absent or complicit—or often both. But among the cities about which the president has railed though this summer of unprecedented protests, Portland has stood out as his personal punching bag. He has called it a “mess” (and “has been for many years,” apparently) and dispatched unmarked federal agents to the city. Just this week, Trump’s Justice Department singled out Portland as an “anarchist jurisdiction,” one in which city leaders have “permitted violence and destruction of property” and from which the White House is now threatening to withhold federal funding if the city doesn’t change course.
Trump has misleadingly blamed the city’s agitation solely on the far left, conveniently ignoring the role armed, far-right groups play in fomenting the violence. But when Trump says that Portland has “been burning for many years,” as he recently told Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, he’s not necessarily wrong.
The fact that Portland has presented the kinds of domestic unrest America hasn’t seen in decades—downtown protests surrounding the federal courthouse recently passed the hundred-day mark, and the city just saw its deadliest month since the 1980s—is not surprising to those who know its history. Just three years ago, during Trump’s first summer in office, POLITICO dubbed Portland “America’s most politically violent city” after left-wing anarchists rioted in the months after Trump’s election and a right-wing white supremacist verbally abused two minority women on a train and stabbed to death two men who intervened.
But with only six weeks remaining until the election, the current conflict has reached new levels of violence, and anyone paying attention can see that things are getting worse. That roiling unrest is presenting an unprecedented challenge for local officials who are struggling to contain the violence—as well as for national Democratic leadership that is struggling to figure out an effective response to an intensely local crisis that has broader political implications, all while the president hectors them as weak and incapable.
“Looking at what’s on the ground right now, I think Portland in a lot of respects represents a worst-case scenario, in terms not of how bad it could possibly get, but how bad it is now,” Mark Pitcavage, who researches domestic political extremism with the Anti-Defamation League, told POLITICO. “It’s hard to be optimistic in the near- or medium-term for Portland.”
Portland’s homegrown clash of extremists on both sides has become so entrenched it is creating a gravitational pull on others from around the country. Left-wing forces, including antifa and others, insist that “Riots and looting” are “a legitimate and profound form of protest,” as a post on one of the popular far-left regional Facebook pages encouraging violence recently read. Meanwhile, the pro-Trump group Patriot Prayer, headquartered north of the city, are eager to confront the opposition. “They go there to provoke physical confrontation, to try to bait people into street fighting,” Daryl Johnson, a former Department of Homeland Security official focused on domestic extremism, said. “Now people are transiting the country, learning from people in Portland. People may have traveled to Portland to get some battle experience, so to speak.”
And that expansion has led to escalation, especially when it comes to the weapons now being used. “We’re starting to see the beginnings of this violence escalating from throwing objects ... to them now pointing guns at each other,” Johnson said. Late last month, an antifa supporter named Michael Reinoehl shot and killed Aaron Danielson, a prominent Patriot Prayer member. A video captured Danielson’s final moments—the footage of which has already spread far and wide.
“People are going to watch that video over and over and over until they get to the point they’re on the brink of pulling the trigger on someone else. That video is a radicalization tool,” Johnson said, pointing to similar footage out of places like Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. “Just like a foreign fighter would go to Syria or Ukraine—it’s the same experience. You’re on the ground, seeing the deterioration of civil order, and it reinforces your little wet dream of an apocalyptic outcome.”
As head of the Oath Keepers, America’s largest militia, said after the Portland shooting, “Civil war is here, right now.”
Portland authorities, who didn’t respond to POLITICO’s questions, have proved themselves unwilling over the past few months to confront those causing the ongoing damage downtown and those who are promoting deadlier conflicts. Efforts at enforcing curfews have fallen flat, and Portland police—who have their own history of brutality and abuse of power—are hardly a trusted force among protesters. Portland Police Bureau Chief Chuck Lovell admitted last month that the time may come for authorities to call in the full weight of the Oregon National Guard.
“I don’t have any hesitancy one way or the other,” Lovell revealed. Gov. Kate Brown, however, has proved reluctant to call in the Oregon National Guard, noting that they’re not trained as law enforcement. (The DOJ’s statement this week designating Portland an “anarchist jurisdiction” specifically called out Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler for “expressly rejecting the Administration’s offer of federal law enforcement to stop the violent protests.”) Read full story
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