Should we respond to Portland riots with even more violence?

Should we respond to Portland riots with even more violence?

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Who are Proud Boys?

In August of 2019, a group called Proud Boys traveled to Portland, Oregon with the purpose of instigating a conflict. The Proud Boys are described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist, anti-Muslim, misogynistic hate group. Other, lesser known groups with potentially similar philosophies joined them in Portland.

Please read the lengthy SPLC description above – Proud Boys is not a nice group. Their only purpose in coming to Portland was to incite violence and a riot. The Mayor said “they could not articulate why they were here” although it seems obvious: to incite a riot. They did not get a riot because Portland provided 1 police officer for every two protestors, costing local taxpayers millions of dollars in direct costs, and a significant drop in economic activity as downtown businesses closed and the city’s mass transit system was completely disrupted. The Mayor says Proud Boys intended to economically hurt the city.

In response, other groups that fall under their own self described banner of “antifa” engaged with the Proud Boys in civil disturbances (the official term used by the Portland Police).  Both groups – Proud Boys – and Antifa – are violent groups, contrary to how each attempts to spin themselves as peaceful or only responding to attacks.

Who is Antifa?

Antifa is not a particular organization nor does it have a specific ideology other than a preference to apply violence towards those they disagree with. Antifa is short hand for “anti fascist”.

CNN describes “Antifia” as assemblies of people with an often far left agenda and belief that violence is justified. As CNN quotes,

“Antifa activists feel the need to partake in violence” ….

“And so we go to cause conflict, to shut them down where they are, because we don’t believe that Nazis or fascists of any stripe should have a mouthpiece.”

The author of the Antifa Handbook and co-organizer of Occupy Wall Street writes in the Washington Post that Antifa is:

“a radical pan-leftist politics of social revolution applied to fighting the far right. Its adherents are predominately communists, socialists and anarchists who reject turning to the police or state to halt the advance of white supremacy.”


“Antifa are autonomous anti-racist groups that monitor and track the activities of local neo-Nazis. They expose them to their neighbors and employers, they conduct public education campaigns, they support migrants and refugees and they pressure venues to cancel white power events.

The vast majority of anti-fascist organizing is nonviolent. But their willingness to physically defend themselves and others from white supremacist violence and preemptively shut down fascist organizing efforts before they turn deadly distinguishes them from liberal anti-racists.”

Antifa did not begin with Trump. The same groups took part in the 1999 Seattle “World Trade Organization” riots and six days of rioting and property damage (to Portland businesses) after the November 2016 Presidential election, shutting down a city where 74% of voters selected Clinton, not Trump.

Those riots were over issues not involving white supremacist hate groups (the Charlottesville white supremacist rally, which many social media posts cite as justification for 2019 violence, occurred in 2017).

Time Magazine writes that “antifa” is said to lack a coherent message – some times it is about fascism, sometimes it is about capitalism, or globalism, or climate studies, or gender issues or something else.

Antifa appears to be – mostly – people who are angry at many different things and “will employ militant tactics or violent means such as vandalism”.

In other words, vigilante and mob justice from angry people – using other violent groups as an excuse for more violence.

A symbiotic relationship has formed between violent white supremacists and violent Antifa, with the former intentionally instigating conflict (by picking Portland, Oregon where there would be a large antifa response), and Antifa then responding.

What is a Fascist?

(Do also read the SPLC summary above to understand what the Proud Boys and related hate groups are about.)

The Washington Post explains fascism and notes attributes of Trump programs (“Muslim ban”, for example, or autocracy) and similar features of Mussolini’s fascism. (Many of the features apply to other political leaders, past and present too.)

What Trump “… offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence.”

These are traits also exhibited by Mussolini and Hitler (and other leaders).

“Fascist” As Defined on Social Media

“Fascist” as seen on social media, however, is much simpler, as Michael Kinsley explains:

“it means no more than “somebody I don’t like.” It is an all-purpose epithet, usable by anyone against everyone from university deans to Fox News anchors.”

Antifa is primarily a group of angry people. In that context, it is easy for angry people to name call others as “fascist” (or a Nazi, as the two terms are used interchangeably on angry social media posts). Once the enemy is delineated as sub-human, any response goes.

Antifa, itself, adopts some of the methods of fascism (see #3, “Glorification of violence and readiness to use it in politics”, #4 “Fetishization of youth” and appeal to youth, #8 “Self-definition by opposition” and #10 “…tendency to purge the disloyal” as elements adopted by Antifa, but note they do not associate with other elements of fascism.)

How Does This Relate to Social Media?

A review of tweets during and after the incidents in Portland shows that, frequently, “fascist” is, as Michael Kinsley says, name calling of someone you think you disagree with. And once you have labeled the target, anything goes. The terms “fascist” and “Nazi” are intended to dehumanize the target, thereby justifying violence against them.

This item was shared into my social media feed:

I noted that as someone who has had multiple traumatic brain injuries, I found this advocacy of violent head injuries disturbing (and violates the terms of service on most social media platforms). I was then accused of being anti-Obama (confusing my 1000+ hours working to fix defects in the Affordable Care Act as “anti-Obama”) and then implied that if I was unwilling to (violently) respond to the Proud Boys in Portland, then I was a Nazi and a coward. (See #10 above, I must be purged!)


As I reviewed hundreds of tweets on these Portland protests, I found many advocating more violence. Many, if not most,  –  contained factually incorrect information and were frequently from people with uncontrolled rage and little logic.

Many antifa supporters on social media cite the example of Portland local and white nationalist Jeremy Christian as an example of right wing murderers and violence – he is accused of murder and goes to trial in 2020 – as justification for violence in Portland. But Christian supported Bernie Sanders for President in 2016, illustrating the difficulty in categorizing targets, plus the propaganda methods of cherry picking and assertions. Some cited the mass murderer in El Paso, Texas as justification due to the shooter leaving behind a hate fueled, racist manifesto and his support of eco-fascism. There were mentions of the Gilroy mass shooting and that murderer’s alleged right wing ideology – but the FBI says reports of his alleged right wing ideology were wrong.

Others said Proud Boys kills people, citing Charlottesville (2017) but say Antifa has never killed anyone (injuries and property damage by antifa are acceptable). The families of those killed by mass murderer Connor Betts in Dayton, OH may have a different view as he supported Antifa, Sanders and Warren.

Social media is filled with “What You See Is All There Is” evidence – by leaving out conflicting information, you can pretend to prove your point, whatever it may be.

Related: Hate groups like Proud Boys are labeled “right wing” and groups like “Antifa” are labeled left wing. In reality, neither are right or left – those labels are applied for political purposes, to denigrate others and fuel more outrage.

The factually incorrect information (all sides of this) gets shared and soon becomes a “fact” (even though not true). This is, in effect, propaganda that encourages others to adopt the agendas of the parties in the conflict. Because so much of it is emotional, it leads to outrage, which in turn leads to more conflict, more anger and more violence.

Social media is ground zero in the activities of these groups espousing violence (Proud Boys, etc, Antifa).

The extreme level of rage present in many of these posts are not mentally healthy for the poster or the drive by targets.

As someone whose brain has been bashed many times, conflict and rage, like that exhibited in these posts is upsetting and causes anxiety and significant discomfort for me. Undoubtedly, this occurs to others as well. This is not healthy nor is it leading to productive solutions – these posts are causing more targets to become emotionally enraged and off balance.

Social media has become a conduit for the expression of rage – and in some cases, encouraging others to actively engage in violence – often based on falsehoods passed along on social media as truth.

Rather than seek meaningful solutions, these outrage festivals lead to ever increasing violence and the spread of more (factually incorrect) propaganda messaging on social media.

Is it any wonder that Proud Boys and movements like antifa are filled with angry people?

Returning to the item above, about the accusation that I am a Nazi and a coward for not being willing to engage in violence – I am old enough to remember when progressive thinkers advocated non-violence (and were opposed to wars). Today, we have self described left wing groups saying violence is not only justified but essential. As 1999 and 2016 showed, violence is justified against anyone you disagree with, not just hate groups. It’s just angry people being violent.

If you don’t subscribe to this call to violence, then you too are a Nazi. That sounds like hate speech coming from those who oppose hate speech.

Do violent protests work?

Not often. In fact, non-violent protests are twice as effective as violent protests. Most people abhor civil violence. Protestors who engage in violence turn the public against those perpetrating the violence. Violence has not been an effective strategy, and as demonstrated empirically since 1999, has led to more violence – not workable solutions.

The violence is often misplaced – and even targets those sympathetic to their cause. Who then become less sympathetic to their cause.

If you have read this far, you hopefully see the lack of logic in social outrage. Its akin to middle school name calling and problem solving – just beat’em up and let’s beat the crap out of those who don’t join us too.

This, sadly, is the state of social media. The noise to signal ratio is high when it is flooded with such garbage and the promotion of hate and violence. Twitter, Facebook, etc, are the enablers of both right wing and left wing hate speech.

None of the actions of Proud Boys or Antifa are leading to de-escalation or solutions. Instead, each engages in activities that lead to more violent outbursts. Both groups have failed to achieve their goals. So what do they do? Engage in more outrage and more violence.

Are Their non Violent Ways to Address Racist Groups like Proud Boys?

I once lived in a town where an “Aryan Nations” group of racists obtained a parade permit. The community responded by holding half price movie showings at local theaters, half price ice skating at local ice rinks, big family events in local parks, and tremendous sales at local retailers and malls. This strategy literally sucked the oxygen out of the racist parade. There were more press people present to cover their parade than there were bystanders.

They were ignored and lacking attention they eventually faded away.

This is one way that racist hate groups can be addressed without resorting to violence. There are undoubtedly others.

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