I’m splitting this article into parts, because it has grown ridiculously long. I’m not about to ask you to sit down in front of my shit for twenty minutes straight. Expect part 2 in another day or two. Thanks.
I’d never seen the Penumbra Kelley Building in person before. Saw hours of it on my phone, last summer. Whenever the protest wanted a night of police brutality that didn’t involve teargas, this Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office administrative building — nestled in the fairly posh Tabor neighborhood — was the location of choice.
It could have looked worse. The windows were all boarded, but it was clean plywood. No paint on the drive or sidewalk — no graffiti, no paint-balloon splatters. The K9 statue was encased in plywood painted tan to match the building’s trim. The worst of it was a couple anti-cop stickers on a lamp pole. You could tell the building had seen some shit, but it managed to look stately nonetheless.
It wasn’t until I walked in the cracked front door that I saw they hadn’t bothered to replace the glass behind the boards yet.
A lot of this summer has surprised me. It’s been far, far quieter than I expected. There were a few actions here and there, but it wasn’t the pick-up-where-we-left-off-and-rage-it-all-summer thing that I expected, and that indeed the very start of the summer hinted at. That, of course, leads me to wonder why. For as ultimately glad I am that the course of the summer isn’t what I predicted, it means I misunderstood something, and I’m not such a fan of that.
Perhaps a summer of beatings subdued more people than I expected it to. Or maybe the police’s hands-off approach adopted on the April 25th anniversary riot choked the ACAB fire down to a smolder. (Can’t throw water bottles at cops that aren’t there. There’s still a core who would love to burn down a precinct or twenty, but without the backing of a mob, it’s not really tenable.) Or perhaps other protests around the country pulled people away from Portland: the Thacker Pass lithium mine, Stop Line 3, the anti-trans shit outside Wi Spa in Los Angeles, planned parenthood in Salem, anti-mask/vaccine protests goddamned everywhere…
Maybe the social-media crackdown following January 6th went both ways. Maybe Biden’s presidency has stabilized the left as it was meant to. Maybe the FBI has upped their counterintelligence game.
Whatever the reason, from an anti-state perspective, summer 2021 in Portland has been fairly tame (if only by comparison, perhaps). If there were guerrilla anti-cop actions going on in the shadows, I never saw word of them.
What did slowly begin to emerge was civilian-on-civilian violence, often at right-wing protests. I’ve reported on a couple, I think. While the base intensity has been slow to ramp up, it definitely has been, and it definitely still is.
Which brings me to August 22nd…
The long lobby was dead. Magazine racks sat empty. Stickers on the floor guided me around a set of desolate tables, six feet at a time, to a desk where a cheery young guy with close-cropped hair and a casual white button-down waved me over from behind plexiglass. I wondered briefly whether he would be so friendly if I had been dressed like myself, rather than in this plain gray T-shirt and clean bluejeans.
“How are you, today?” he chirped.
“I’m alright,” I returned in kind. “How about you?”
“Not bad! Not bad! What can I do for you?”
“I’m here for a CHL appointment,” I admitted.
“Alrighty, your name?” he said as he opened a folder that was sitting on top of a stack of papers within immediate reach.
I gave it to him.
“There you are, awesome. Just have a seat and someone will call you by name probably closer to 11:00.”
“Great, thanks!” I gave him a smile from behind my mask, took a seat, and researched the legality of taking pictures inside a police building.
I’ve put this off for so long.
I didn’t even follow this as it was happening. I was busy shoving hundreds of dollars of other people’s drugs into my body through three orifices. Four, if you count both nostrils. Instead I came back days after the fact and poured through no fewer than six Twitter threads, seven news articles, and two press conferences, trying to piece together the most violent clash in Portland that I’ve ever seen.
Even that was over a week ago — long enough that I can’t remember the narrative road I was going to take through the chaos — and there were so many details that I can’t remember any of them. Even my notes are barely any help at all.
But I can’t say nothing. And I know that. And if you’ve already heard how the day ended, then you know it too.
We’ll see what I can dredge up from the mess of sentence fragments and urls I left myself.
One year prior, on August 22nd 2020, hundreds of right-wing demonstrators gathered on the steps of the Justice Center for a Back-the-Blue flag wave. Hundreds of leftists (who had been protesting nightly for weeks anyway) gathered in Chapman Park across the street in counterprotest. The opposed fronts met in the street and waged an hour-long brawl with melee, paintballs, and bear mace. Robert Evans had his hand broken. Laura Jedeed rode the Snack Van like a cowpoke on a Q-pilled bronco. Alan Swinney aimed a revolver at a crowd of people, finger inside the trigger guard, ready to destroy (according to the fundamental rules of firearm safety) whoever. Patriot prayer supporter Aaron Danielson was shot to death by antifascist Michael Reinoehl in front of a parking garage.
It was no coincidence, then, that August 22, 2021 was chosen for this year’s big right-wing gathering downtown. I’m not sure who organized it. In execution, it seemed to be led by Proud Boys, who also made up a sizable portion of the attendees. Probably a fair number of Patriot Prayer as well. Maybe even some folks who would not approve of the violence to follow. It’s a nice thought, anyway.
This downtown event had been planned for a while. I hear it started with a different name, but at some point it was renamed to the Summer of Love rally. Nobody on the left bought it. I’m not sure if anyone on the right did either. Regardless, the advance notice gave antifascists plenty of time to get the word out and congeal into a counterprotest, and once again, hundreds of antifascists of all stripes gathered in opposition.
It was a diverse crowd. A lot of black bloc, obviously, but a lot of people not in bloc, too. The atmosphere was festive. A couple people in inflatable unicorn suits danced to the Frontline Drumline while someone in bloc rapped freesyle through a portable speaker. Another somebody drove an expensive-looking RC car around the street with skill.
It was the third time that month I’d seen high-quality RC cars being driven around — a thing I don’t remember having seen in Portland before, really. It brought to mind the increase in street racing that’s been so pronounced over the past year, especially as this RC car spun donuts and drifted through turns. There was one car I spotted at the protests a lot last summer: a white sports car with LED ground lighting, often at the head of a march. And so I’ve long wondered about any overlap between ACAB protesters and illegal street racers. Opportunistic racing while the cops are distracted by a protest makes plenty of sense, but so does street racing to lure cops away from the protest and spread them thin. And one of the very very early nights ended, according to an exasperated officer during a press conference, with people driving around in sports cars throwing fireworks at them. This RC car being driven with such competence only rekindled my wondering.
The story goes that when the far right heard about the numbers that had gathered to oppose them downtown, they relocated the gathering to a sprawling parking lot at a defunct K-Mart far to the east, on the north edge of Portland at 122nd and Sandy, in the Parkrose neighborhood — a currently (if not historically) Black neighborhood.
There was disagreement on the waterfront as to what to do. Some wanted to take the win and go home. We showed up in force, they would say, and kept them from gathering downtown. Mission accomplished. Others wanted to go confront them in Parkrose, too. At least one person got quite angry about it. “It doesn’t matter where the Proud Boys are!” they ranted. “We’re antifascists! We go where they go! We go where they go! That is literally our movement statement!”
And, well, if we were to talk specifically about the slice of antifascists willing to engage in violence — antifa themselves — this person would not be wrong. “We go where they go” has been the ethos of militant antifascism since at least the 90s. The purpose of antifa has always been to show up in numbers to oppose fascists wherever they gather, with the willingness to be violent if necessary for community defense, but to never themselves be the instigators of said violence. It… doesn’t always work out this way in practice, but that’s the idea.
The angry person didn’t get, like, a rousing cheer, or even polite applause, but they successfully stirred the mood and fired enough people up that a bunch of black bloc got in vehicles and headed east to confront the far right.
To be continued…