By Larisa Shepitko
On Saturday, August 17, members of the Proud Boys and other assorted reactionary groups held a rally in Portland, Oregon, claiming that the rally was in protest of domestic terrorism perpetrated by “antifa.” The gathering was as an attempt to embolden the broad far-right, who are dusting off their American flags for the upcoming Trump campaign rallies, however the majority of the fascist-led protest requested a police escort out of the area by early afternoon. They were surrounded by various organized and disorganized antifascists who came out to confront them.
The FBI visited Joe Biggs and Enrique Tarrio, leaders of the Proud Boys, shortly after the recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. In response, Biggs made a post on social media urging rally attendees to “tone down [the] rhetoric.”
“[Let’s] hope our president designated them [Antifa] a terrorist organization,” Biggs writes in the post, to which President Donald Trump later responded, affirming that he was seriously considering doing just that.
The Proud Boys predictably claimed the rally as a victory due to Trump’s tweet. The disingenuous concern about terrorism is being used as a unifying campaign for fascist and populist groups. The ploy is particularly audacious considering the manifesto of the El Paso shooter drew heavily from the writings and philosophy of fascist organizations like those that participated in the rally this past Saturday.
While it is not clear who was involved in the fights that broke out Saturday, a total of 13 have been arrested and two hospitalized. This rally exposed the fact that Trump is still a uniting figure for many of these rightwing groups. While the white supremacist, lone wolf El Paso shooter was condemned by Trump to reassure teetering conservatives, the flagrant white-supremacist rally was all but attended by Trump himself. His message essentially being that unorganized fascist attacks are not okay right now but organized fascism is. This is a politically calculated move, working to consolidate his base on each end of the spectrum in preparation for his 2020 election campaign.
While some seriously prepare for what all signs point to as a start in escalating battles and street wars, others are still content to use these serious political struggles to put their own creativity and personal brand on display. It was reported on several news outlets that there were protesters in banana costumes calling themselves the “Banana Bloc Dance Party,” and other protesters dawning large impractical puppets.
While there are certainly many different ways to show support for antifascism, these forms represent two dangerous ideas: that humor and celebration-style attire and props should be brought into such serious matters and that the collective safety of antifascists should not be prioritized.
It is important to shed casual attitudes towards antifascism as we have seen how serious the outcomes can be. There were, however, many other antifascist protesters that did come prepared. In one case, the windows of a bus carrying fascists away were smashed and had mace sprayed into the interior.
If not for these antifascists who take the work seriously, the fascists would have had more opportunities to attack. If the counterprotest had been left up to the “Banana Bloc Dance Party,” the cost to the movement would have been more than bruised bananas. Antifascism must be more centralized, more organized, and more disciplined if it is going to combat and win against the resurging tide of civilian fascism which is being egged on by the US president.