‘Political violence has been normalised’
Andy Ngo on Portland’s violent antifa mobs.
Journalist Andy Ngo was violently assaulted earlier this year by antifa agitators in Portland, Oregon. He was hospitalised with brain injuries. He was documenting the clashes between the right-wing Proud Boys and antifa counter-protesters – two extreme, militant foes in the Culture Wars. He had been covering Portland’s antifa phenomenon for some time before he was assaulted. spiked caught up with him to find out more.
spiked: Did you ever expect anything like the attack you experienced in June?
Andy Ngo: No. They had been escalating things, such as spraying me with bear mace and trying to damage my camera equipment with silly string. But I didn’t expect that they would injure me so badly that I would have to be hospitalised with a brain bleed. I should have recognised the potential for extreme violence because other people have been targeted and beaten up viciously before. I was naive in thinking that if people saw me face to face without any protective gear on, they would see that I’m not a threat. But that’s not what happened.
spiked: What has been happening in Portland?
Ngo: Portland has become the epicentre of social-justice extremism. You have things like people sending death threats and chasing out two white women who ran a burrito food cart for ‘cultural appropriation’. You had a bakery that fired all its staff because they didn’t serve a black woman who came in after the bakery had closed. So, these are the types of things that Portland makes the headlines for. But the darker side is what happens when grievance ideology mixes with far-left revolutionary ideas and when intersectionality is mainstreamed. Because of the city’s politics, we also have a police force who is either unable or unwilling to uphold the law.
After the election of Donald Trump, there were three days of protest that devolved into rioting that caused $1million worth of damage in downtown. Ever since then, we’ve been having almost ritualised forms of street brawling and violence. Many innocent citizens have been caught up in it, particularly because these demonstrations shut down the streets in the middle of the city. People who are either walking by or trying to drive through get caught up at the wrong time and the wrong place and get mobbed.
spiked: Do you have a sense that the police are holding back or being deliberately inactive?
Ngo: It’s been over two months since I was beaten by masked assailants. The attack was claimed by Rose City Antifa, the local antifa affiliate. But there hasn’t been a single arrest. It’s my perception that because our mayor also doubles as a police commissioner, and he’s up for re-election in a city that’s extremely anti-police, there are conflicts of interest when the mayor is politically rewarded for not enforcing the law when it comes to far-left extremism.
On numerous occasions when I’ve been attacked before, it has literally happened within eyesight of the police, because they’re always around the perimeter of these demonstrations. For example, on May Day this year, I was punched. I reported it to a police officer who was right there and he said he would not approach, confront or detain the masked suspects because it could incite the crowd. And this is the guiding principle, basically, that if they are even to question a suspect, it could make the whole black-block antifa mob the police.
spiked: What role do the right play in some of the street battles? They seem to travel to Portland especially to cause a scene or cause a spectacle.
Ngo: That’s a good point. I’m not here to exculpate the right. They recognise that Portland has become a place that is easy to provoke. Coming in and doing a flag-waving event, for example, would be seen as extremely provocative in Portland. And they have capitalised on that by taking a certain amount of glee in ‘owning the libs’. But then what happens is they are not just dealing with college students who are angry and just yelling — they are dealing with people who are willing to come and confront them physically with weapons. Now there are elements on both sides who broadcast their desire for violence and they come wearing helmets and masks. They bring shields and weapons like bats, brass knuckles and even knives. That’s why the brawls devolve into such anarchy and chaos to the point where someone like me, who was just recording it, could be mobbed and beaten and given a brain injury.
spiked: Are these fights between antifa and people like the Proud Boys just a distraction from everyday politics, or do they tell us something more significant?
Ngo: I think it tells us something more significant. I think what we’re seeing is a normalisation of political violence. It started a few years ago when there was a great deal of support among pundits for the ‘punch a Nazi’ meme. Since then, the definition of Nazi has expanded so much it’s just now used to smear anybody that you dislike. People then feel justified in committing acts of violence against these ‘Nazis’. The street hooligans have had support in the mainstream media, from CNN and writers for Vice, Vox and Buzzfeed. Those writers and pundits have not engaged in criminal behaviour themselves, but they find ways to rationalise that type of behaviour.
Andy Ngo was talking to Fraser Myers.
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