How the Media and Politicians Aided Antifa Rioters in Portland | Opinion

The following essay is excerpted from Andy Ngo's forthcoming book Unmasked: Inside Antifa's Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy, due out from Center Street on February 2.

On July 5, 2020, hundreds of militant Antifa and Black Lives Matter activists returned to again attack federal law enforcement officers outside the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in downtown Portland. They were masked and dressed in black as they tried to burn down the federal building. They also assaulted construction crews who were working around the clock to replace wooden barriers that were torn down by Antifa rioters the previous night.

Christopher Fellini, 31, was arrested that night and charged with assaulting a federal officer. In his possession, officers found a knife, pepper spray and a powerful laser. For weeks on end, rioters had organized into subdivisions that used laser pointers to blind and injure the eyes of cops. Fellini's name stood out because he was previously charged at another fiery Portland Antifa riot in 2017 (his charge was ultimately dropped).

Another federal arrestee was Andrew Steven Faulkner, 24, who was also charged with assaulting an officer. During his arrest, he was found carrying pipe bomb components and a sheathed machete. He later pleaded guilty but was not given prison time.

For the next four weeks, Antifa's plan of escalating attacks on federal property to provoke a federal response for the cameras produced the exact propaganda they wanted. On any given night, there were dozens who identified as press. At its peak there were probably more than a hundred journalists and live streamers, most of whom were sympathetic to the rioters and protesters. Instinctively, and at the urging or demand of others, their cameras were trained solely on law enforcement to capture their every move. Those who ran afoul of Antifa's rules were forced out or assaulted and robbed. Left‐wing live streamer Tristan Taylor was beaten to the ground and had his recording equipment stolen.

Every use of force by officers, whether it be tear gas, smoke, pepper balls or arrests, was heavily scrutinized. Out‐of‐context video snippets were released on social media and published by news outlets, generating mass rage and universally negative press for law enforcement and the Trump administration. The officers were called "Trump's gestapo," "storm troopers" and "thugs" by Democratic politicians and the media.

Erin Smith, a conservative trans woman and writer who goes undercover at large Antifa riots on the West Coast, tells me Antifa use a "calibrated level of violence" to provoke reactions by law enforcement for propaganda purposes.

"Antifa seek to force law enforcement into a dilemma action, where there are simply no good responses from a public relations standpoint," Smith said via email. "They either fail to respond to Antifa harassment and look weak, or react in ways likely to be perceived by the casual observer as an overreaction. Both choices undermine the legitimacy of the state and its security forces."

As useful idiots for Antifa, the press predictably published reports that helped provoke more hatred for law enforcement, contributing to more people showing up to the protests-turned-riots.

"Trump sent cops to Portland and they're 'kidnapping people off the streets,'" read a Vice News headline. "'It was like being preyed upon': Portland protesters say federal officers in unmarked vans are detaining them," read another from The Washington Post.

All these stories based on Antifa talking points were meant to create an impression that Trump had literally sent secret police to disappear left‐wing opposition. It was false. Using unmarked vehicles to make targeted arrests is neither illegal nor unusual. Every law enforcement agency around the world uses unmarked vehicles. When officers had attempted the usual route of moving in to physically arrest someone at the riots, they were mobbed by rioters who "de‐arrested" their comrades by surrounding police and pulling them away. Antifa claimed victory online each time this happened.

Portland protests
Graffiti on a wall reflects the mood on September 26, 2020 in the streets directly outside of the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in downtown Portland, Oregon. The almost nightly skirmishes between police and demonstrators have taken on an aspect of street theater, while remaining dangerous. Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis/Getty

Accusations of there being "secret police" and "unidentified federal agents" were also false. Every officer wore official uniforms that displayed their federal agency via badges on the shoulders with clear words on the front that read "POLICE." That politicians and journalists did not or pretended not to recognize the uniforms is not an excuse. And no one was ever "disappeared." All those detained were properly processed and read their Miranda rights. Most were released within hours and later had their charges dismissed.

As bad as the riots already were, Portland City Council and local politicians actively worked to undermine the federal government's attempts to protect federal property. In effect, they were acting as cobelligerents with Antifa in their uprising. When ex-acting secretary Chad Wolf of DHS flew to Portland from Washington, D.C., in mid‐July to survey the extent of the violence and destruction, local officials preemptively refused to meet with him.

"We're aware that [DHS leadership is] here. We wish they weren't," tweeted Mayor Wheeler. "We haven't been invited to meet with them, and if we were, we would decline."

Oregon Democratic senator Ron Wyden called federal officers an "occupying army."

Oregon governor Kate Brown echoed and amplified the false media headlines. "This is a democracy, not a dictatorship. We cannot have secret police abducting people in unmarked vehicles," Gov. Brown tweeted. By mid‐July, the Portland City Council officially banned Portland Police from cooperating in any way with federal law enforcement.

The anti‐police and anti‐Trump echo chamber involving Antifa, the media and local politicians brought Portland into international headlines. With that, protesters from the region and around the country descended on the city, believing they were opposing "fascist" cops. Gatherings in front of the federal courthouse swelled from a couple hundred to more than five thousand by mid-July. Antifa now had the perfect opportunity to carry out attacks they planned using huge numbers of protesters as human shields. It worked incredibly well. When I was undercover on the ground, what I saw was a war zone with armed belligerents. And they were just getting started. Over time, they came better and better prepared with explosives, guns and even power tools to cut into the courthouse's defense barrier.

Andy Ngo is author of the upcoming book Unmasked: Inside Antifa's Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy. Twitter: @MrAndyNgo

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.