Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is calling for a federal criminal investigation of Portland’s mayor after a right-wing writer was beaten up by antifascist activists during a protest over the weekend.
The violence erupted as dueling protest groups faced off with one another and police in a few public squares on Saturday, in the latest of repeated clashes in in the liberal Oregon city since Donald Trump was elected. Three people were arrested, and eight injured, including writer Andy Ngo, who was admitted to the hospital.
The political animosity on display in Portland’s streets Saturday has continued to swirl online since then — and conservative media have pounced on Ngo’s plight as evidence that antifascists (aka “antifa”) are dangerous and ought to be condemned as domestic terrorists.
Other conservatives have echoed Cruz’s outrage at the situation, saying the mayor has lost control of the city.
Antifa often damage property during protests and sometimes get into violent confrontations with police or the far-right — but to date they haven’t been linked to any killings.
Rose City Antifa, Portland’s local antifascist chapter, organized a counterprotest Saturday in response to a planned rally by the Proud Boys, a far-right street-fighting gang. The Proud Boys’ rally was dubbed “The Battle of Portland Part Two”, and was planned almost exactly a year since a similar violent rally, which led to four arrests and four people transported to hospital with injuries.
Meanwhile, conservative activists with the men’s rights movement #HimToo organized their own rally the same day. (Proponents of #HimToo movement believe men have been unfairly accused and maligned by the sexual assault allegations that surfaced during the #MeToo movement.)
Besides the melange of groups, strained police-community relations added an extra dimension to the day.
Earlier this year, Mayor Ted Wheeler — who has received threats from Proud Boys — launched an independent investigation into bias within his own police department after a local paper published hundreds of text messages between a police lieutenant and the leader of the far-right Patriot Prayer.
Ngo works as an editor for Quillette, which touts itself as the bible for the Intellectual Dark Web, and has made a name for himself via his coverage of antifa. He’s also known for spreading dangerous conspiracy theories about members of the media and minorities.
When video and photos of protesters covering Ngo in milkshake, raw egg, and silly string surfaced online, the initial response among his many enemies was somewhat gleeful.
But Ngo’s injuries turned out to be more serious than they first appeared. He later posted pictures to social media showing his bruised and swollen face, and said his video equipment was stolen. He was admitted to hospital and treated for his injuries, which he said included bleeding on the brain.
Video of the confrontation shows Ngo surrounded by many black-clad protesters, being pelted by eggs and silly string, when one runs up to him, throws a punch, and another kicks him. Another black-clad antifascist appears to step in, and shield him as he walks away removing his goggles.
It wasn’t the first time that a rally in Portland ended in violence. Last August, police fired off flash-bang grenades into a crowd of counterprotesters at close range. One of the missiles struck a protester in the back of the head, piercing his bicycle helmet and splitting his skull. The injury caused hemorrhaging and he was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury.
Conservative media have also zeroed in on a tweet by Portland Police Department during Saturday’s events, warning that the milkshakes that antifa were hurling at police and the far-right could contain quick-dry cement.
The trend of dumping milkshakes on far-right activists or politicians started earlier this year in the United Kingdom, and has since become a popular protest tactic of the American left. Popular Mobilization, a leftist activist group, handed out hundreds of homemade vegan milkshakes made with coconut to protesters in Portland on Saturday.
But Portland Police Department offered no evidence to support their cement-milk-shaking claim, nor was it corroborated by any journalists on the ground. Protesters did, however, share photos of themselves enjoying their free vegan shakes. The Police Department did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.
Calling in the feds
Conservative politicians and media outlets are using the rumors of cement milkshakes and the attack on Ngo as evidence that Wheeler has lost control of his city.
“To federal law enforcement: investigative & bring legal action against a Mayor who has, for political reasons, ordered his police officers to let citizens be attacked by domestic terrorists,” Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted on Sunday. Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, is also calling on the Justice Department to investigate the incident.
A senior fellow at Media Matters for America, a progressive media watchdog, also spoke out about the incident. “It is not acceptable to assault journalists, no matter how much you hate their work,” tweeted Matthew Gertz. “Trying to create carve-outs on this is a very bad idea that is unlikely to end well.”
In a series of tweets Monday, Wheeler said violence was “unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” and that he would ensure those responsible would be “held accountable.”
Wheeler, a Democrat, has struggled to find a balance between respecting citizens’ First Amendment rights and condemning political violence where possible. He’s also had to toe the line between condemning violence without sounding like he is attempting to place blame on “both sides” of the fight, as President Donald Trump infamously did in the wake of the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. Earlier in 2017, Portland was the site of its own hate crime: A white supremacist murdered two men who stepped in to defend Muslim women from verbal abuse.
Portland has long been a stronghold of liberalism, and famous for political demonstrations and clashes with the police. But since the 2016 election, red MAGA-hatted Trump fans have descended on the left-leaning city to confront liberal activists. The confrontations have taken the form of organized rallies by groups like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, as well as in sporadic street violence.
While Portland leans heavily left, many parts of Oregon are deep red — and growing partisan divides have highlighted that disparity.
Cover: Andy Ngo, a Portland-based journalist, is seen covered in an unknown substance after unidentified Rose City Antifa members attacked him on June 29, 2019 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Moriah Ratner/Getty Images)