Ted Wheeler, the mayor of Portland, has lost control. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that Wheeler has ceded control of his city to Antifa with predictable results.
Portland is normally a hotbed of liberalism, but the city has boiled over in recent weeks. The trouble started with the police shooting of Patrick Kimmons on September 30. In the days after Kimmons’ death, Antifa members rallied to Portland to protest. On October 14, Patriot Prayer, a right-wing group with a history of provocative rallies, staged a counter-demonstration that led to violent clashes between the rival groups. Critics charge that Mayor Wheeler contributed to the violence by ordering police to stand down.
In the Washington Times, Wheeler said, “I was appalled by what I saw in the video, but I support the Portland Police Bureau’s decision not to intervene. This whole incident will be investigated.”
The video that Wheeler referred to was one of several taken by Andy Ngo and posted to Twitter. It showed black-clad Antifa members directing traffic in an intersection and attacking cars while Portland police looked on. The militants reportedly broke the window of a Lexus driven by a 74-year-old man who did not follow their directions.
“This is the kind of street anarchy that routinely happens where I live,” Ngo said.
The Portland violence resembles the Charlottesville rioting from last year. After Antifa descended on the city, right-wing activists staged a “flash march for law and order,” led by Joey Gibson, a former Republican Senate candidate. Gibson’s Patriot Prayer group included members of the Proud Boys, an alt-right group of brawlers founded in 2016. Like Charlottesville, when police stood down, the two groups mixed with explosive results. Proud Boys were also involved in a New York City clash over the weekend.
Oregon Live reported that participants in the street fighting carried bear spray, hard knuckle gloves, knives and firearms. There were no arrests, but riot police reported intervened to stop at least one skirmish by firing pepper balls at the crowd.
The mayor argued that he would have been criticized no matter how he had handled the Portland mobs. “This is the story of Goldilocks and the two bears. The porridge is either too hot or it’s too cold,” Mr. Wheeler told reporters. “At any given moment in this city, the police are criticized for being heavy-handed and intervening too quickly, or they’re being criticized for being standoffish and not intervening quickly enough.”
The best solution would seem to have been to uphold the law. When two opposing mobs, neither with a permit for a demonstration, are street fighting in downtown Portland, destroying property and endangering citizens, it is the responsibility of the city government and police to take charge of the situation. Mayor Wheeler’s failure to exercise his authority to protect the city directly contributing to the rioting. It was Mr. Wheeler’s initial lack of response to Antifa that led Patriot Prayer to launch their counter-protest.
Portland is a liberal city and Mr. Wheeler was probably concerned that cracking down on Antifa would hurt his political career. Many of the Antifa protesters and their supporters are likely Portland voters who would exact their revenge on Mr. Wheeler at the ballot box. Still, what the country needs desperately at this moment is an act of political courage. Elected officials need to do their jobs and uphold the law, regardless of the consequences and regardless of the political affiliation of the rioters.
The scene in Portland was reminiscent of street brawling between German communists and Nazis in the 1920s. The comparison is especially apt since one of Mr. Ngo’s photos shows the Antifa radicals carrying a Soviet flag. In Weimar Germany, street brawling by party hooligans helped to undermine the authority of the unpopular government.
It isn’t a question of which group is right and which is wrong. Both are operating outside the law and looking for a fight. Allowing paramilitary fighters free rein delegitimizes the government and strengthens radicals of both sides. The city government should be conducting mass arrests of anyone involved in the street fighting and prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law. If the city government cannot control the situation, they should request assistance from the National Guard.
Mayor Wheeler’s lack of response to the violence in Portland is a show of weakness that will only encourage both groups to further violence. Both sides are undermining the authority of the government and contributing to the general atmosphere of anger and fear that seems to permeate American politics. It is up to civic leaders like Mayor Wheeler to earn their pay and secure their cities.
Originally published on The Resurgent