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Aug 31, 21

Standing Up to Fascism: Critical Notes on A22 with Thoughts on Going Forward

A thoughtful and critical reflection on the recent mobilization against the Proud Boys in so-called Portland, Oregon and thoughts on how to move forward better next time. Originally posted to Rose City Counter-Info.

There were two reportbacks on the August 22nd conflict with Proud Boys. The first one was basic info, parts were left out according to some. The second was reportback was awful and several old school anti-fascists like me didn’t want what was being said to represent us or the movement we have devoted years of our life to building. I felt it was necessary to provide a 3rd reportback, different from the first 2, which focuses mostly on strategy and tactics. This day is over. Let’s not keep getting into a never-ending debate on what we should have or shouldn’t have done. Instead, let us review what happened that day so that in the future, we cand produce different outcomes when similar situations might arise.

In the spirit of “We go where they go,” I thought going down to Parkrose was the right idea. I still do to some extent, but I realize the plan was poorly executed. People often criticize the act of attending actions that aren’t in downtown Portland, citing issues of unfamiliar terrain, communities sympathetic to chuds, and transportation. These are problems we must address. It is a strategic error to leave a lot of territory for fascist groups to freely organize and build their base in. That makes matters even worse for marginalized groups in those already hostile areas. That reluctance to counter any actions outside of downtown Portland will lead us into a never-ending cycle, where they will be back downtown when they’ve built up their ranks.

In the 90s and early 00s, many ARA groups successfully countered Neo-Nazi rallies in small towns all over places like Ohio, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. Most of that movement’s organizing was done in small towns away from base cities like Chicago, Columbus, and Philadelphia. The actions were planned better and without the help of smart phones. It can still be done successfully today.

When folx found out the Proud Boys were setting up a stage in the Kmart parking lot it became evident they weren’t going to be downtown. The decision to go down was made rather hastily. One group told us they were going down and there were other crews with them. There was no estimate given for what we had for numbers. We had a poor estimate of the chud numbers at best, by looking at Twitter videos on the crowd.

I regret not taking the time to insist we talk to more groups about heading down. Instead, we succumbed to the pressure of getting there in a hasty manor because we were worried people would go on ahead of us and get hurt. In hindsight, we should have gotten a decent eye on the chuds, said gotten a count, and said “We’ll see who wants to go, and call it off if we can’t get similar numbers or better.” There was discussion in my AG about possibly standing across the street with signs if we couldn’t get the numbers.

I also regret not taking the time to do personal recon of the scenario first; to see how many potential combatants and what kind of gear/weapons they had. Recon is a MUST. More scouting of the area was necessary to find better locations to meet up or maybe approach the parking lot from, and to know possible escape routes.

We were still at the Parkrose High parking lot, waiting for more folx to show when the rest of the group abruptly decided to head down, saying something about there was already people down there. This was when they Proud boys were attacking the medic van. From what I understand, the medic van was there because the Proud Boys had previously attacked and threatened other people. Proud Boys had been attacking people even before we got there, which reinforced our decision to be there. Although premature action was consistently the error of the day, in some cases it’s hard to wait when people are under attack. Shortly after we saw smoke and clouds of spray going off and our group did a mad dash across four lanes of traffic on 122nd st to catch up with the rest of the bloc.

Parkrose high school was a bad meetup spot. It was wide open, and a block or two straight down a narrow sidewalk along 122nd St. We had no cover, and no place to fan out to. Going up and down that sidewalk in a tight cluster made us easy targets for paintballs and bear spray. Only the people near the front could see well enough to throw things at the chuds. Although the chuds had to chase us uphill, they were facing traffic and could spread out into the street more easily, allowing them to use their full numbers.

What works in our favor downtown is having cover and access/evac routes. There are a million streets and parking garages you can duck into when you must disperse and de-bloc. Last year August 22, 2020, the terrain worked for us because we were able to use the full park to our advantage. People would throw things and hide behind a tree or a statue when the paintballs started flying. This was working against us last Sunday.

The chuds mainly relied on paintball guns against us to back us up. In their front line they had drawn bats and knives, plus one handgun. One paintball doesn’t hurt that much, but many paintballs make it difficult to advance. The few people at the front were taking most of the fire. Safety goggles AND helmets were key to keeping us from getting hurt. Remember, ALWAYS bring Personal Protective Equipment to these things. The folx with the knives and bats were also a reason to back up. We have trained for disarming people with bats, but when there is several of them standing next to each other, you are at risk of being blind-sided when you are in range, with both hands on one person’s bat. The added pressure of paintballs makes it more difficult as one could imagine. The ability of paintball guns to hold ammo and fire rapidly is a big bonus to whoever has them in this situation.

Had we taken the time to rally more numbers from downtown, some anti-fascists who had brought paintball guns of their own might have been with us to make things go better. The paint sprayers we had worked well. It was a great tactic, but we couldn’t carry enough of them. Throwing seltzers helped, but just couldn’t keep up with the paintball guns. Finally, this was one of the times I’ve seen bear spray used correctly. It was evenly sprayed side to side to create a cloud between us and the chuds as we retreated, making it harder for them to advance. Some of them went through the cloud, but many dropped off.

Other options might have been to enter from the Sandy side of the lot, or to stage a counter-rally on the island across 122nd where it intersects with Sandy. 122nd would be a huge barrier to cross, but it would have been a defensible position if we just wanted to hold that spot and show up for a counter-rally. It’s possible they might not have even tried to cross 122nd st if that were the case.

If we want to go where they go but lack numbers, there’s always the option of having a visible picket line with signs to drum up support. This would have been a good idea since many of the Parkrose residents had complaints about the Proud Boys. There were already residents holding a sign picket in front of the Parking lot. Allegedly, a nearby restaurant made complaints about them, and they had been kicked out of Argay park before this. Also, this working-class neighborhood is more diverse and multi-cultural than most of Portland. There are many rainbow flags and BLM signs in the area. It’s not hard to drum up local support. It’s possible we should consider some of these traditional protest tactics rather than black bloc every time. A Diversity of Tactics has always been our mantra, as much as “we go where they go,” and “we fight to win.”

Finally, at the intersection of 122nd and Shaver st, folx in the back ran across 122nd st to go back to the Parkrose High parking lot. This was a bad decision, obviously made in panic. If you are retreating, you must never lead fascists back to your cars, or homes. It was suggested that folx could have gone the other way on Shaver and just lead chuds on a goose chase. Shaver goes on for a while next to a big field. I can’t picture that the chuds, as drunk as they were, with their poor cardio, fresh from a skirmish, walking up hill, and breathing bear spray could have continued that for long. There were far fewer of them that made it to the intersection. Remember, walk don’t run. Running does nothing but create panic and tire you out.

At the last part of the day, as the Proud Boys advanced through the parking lot, John Turano aka “Based Spartan” was doing his usual thing where he was yelling like a maniac and wearing his LARP costume. He started wildly spraying a can of bear mace in an arc in front of him like he’s Rambo with a machine gun. Then he tried to come at us through the cloud he just made because the spray got into his face. That was the funniest thing I saw all day along with Tiny getting hosed by paint and crying later.

It was then that we noticed the person being attacked in the truck and started shouting “Regroup! There’s a guy in the truck! We gotta go back for him!!” The small, defeated group courageously regrouped and started pushing forward to confront again for the third time, but we were driven back with paintball fire. I was initially very disappointed with this. One of the videos from inside the parking lot shows Proud Boys leaving the guy in the truck and shouting “ANTIFA! ANTIFA!” to turn their direction towards us. This created a window for him to escape. I looked back after there was some confusion about who was in the truck, and no one was there. We saw him come over to us shortly after this.

All attempts must be made to rescue our comrades when they are in danger. Even a small attempt, one that you think is completely futile, can make a difference. “Never leave a comrade behind” should be added to the mantras we remember for actions.

The Proudboys then turned to attack the press who were filming the whole thing, then went back to the Kmart parking lot. Videos show they were worried about another group coming in to make another assault, so they packed up and left quickly.

Later on in the day we returned to the fountain. I won’t get into the details, but people were acting irrational and rambunctious. Folx were looking for a fight and creating a hostile atmosphere. After the 3rd time people ran down the street due to a false alarm about chuds, I made the comment to my friend “Most of these people would have been better off spending this energy in Parkrose. Too bad they weren’t there.”

Yes, it was a clusterfuck. There were bad decisions that were made. People got hurt, cars were damaged, and I feel like the bloc in Parkrose day made a lot of people look bad. There is something to be said for “falling forward” instead of “falling back.” We must not look at ourselves as failures. We must learn from our mistakes and take the positives. We must look at the whole picture and not let our efforts be in vain.

  1. Antifascists held the Proud boys’ original rally point downtown at the waterfront. Proud Boys ran away and held a rally on the far side of town, miles from where the counter would be.
  2. Although the group that confronted the Proud Boys’ rally at Kmart was routed, the Proud Boys immediately jumped ship and abandoned the rally. They didn’t caravan downtown, they just got outta Dodge for fear of more groups coming back. At that point they had lost some numbers.
  3. Tiny and Joey Gibson had a rally in that same parking lot last year. It went unopposed. They thought, nobody would try there, and they were wrong. They probably won’t have another rally there, and now we have a blueprint for the next time they do, IF they do.
  4. The footage of them flipping vans and going wild, was terrible opsec and optics to an already tainted organization.

I think we came out ahead at the end of the day, because antifascists maintained the original spot, and the Proud Boys cut their rally short. Even if the battle in Parkrose was lost, the Proud Boys only had a minor victory, that came at a large cost. Occasionally you have to take the L. If we lose, it must come at a greater price to the enemy. This is classic war strategy. The Proud Boys are spread throughout Northern Cali, Oregon, and Washington. They probably have only about 50-60 people through the PNW. The organization has been on the decline. They cannot win a war of attrition or settle for Pyrrhic victories against us. We have better numbers, more resources, and more momentum. I’m not saying we should take this lightly, but we are enough ahead of them that we can eat this loss.

For our folx that weren’t there, those that want to offer criticisms need to learn to do so in a constructive manner. People at the event put a lot on the line. They were brave and had good intentions. While there were many valid criticisms, there are also many on Twitter who jump to criticize the folx that were involved, swarming like a pack of hyenas to devour a wounded gazelle. There were many invalid criticisms, where the intent was to guilt, shame, and insult those who were involved. This happens frequently, and every time I’m disgusted by this behavior. The people who were involved don’t need this. They have already faced the consequences of their own actions. They do not need others to add insults to their injuries. Let people learn from their failures.

Public shaming is not the way we want to go about this. And if you don’t fight fascists, don’t tell other people how to do it. Fighting is stressful, it’s a lot to deal with. If it were easy, more people would do it. We have too many people who like to talk big but not do the hard part. Let’s keep ourselves and our friends in check with this. Let’s practice giving each other the benefit of the doubt. Let’s practice pulling our friends aside and privately saying things like “Is there a better way you could get that point across?” “That’s kinda mean,” and “Don’t be a jerk.”

As always, people should practice running on a regular basis to exercise their cardio for these situations. Good cardio will help you outlast your opponents. Strength training helps, and martial arts with a LIVE sparring component are the best ones to take. Folx have suggested MMA in the style of “sprawl and brawl” fighters like Chuck Liddell. While you can go to the ground and grapple, the emphasis should be on striking and stand-up wrestling (defending the take down, standing throws, clinch, etc). Knowing how to get up off the ground is also crucial. Train regularly. We all need to protect each other.

After the fact, it meant a lot when a comrade said, “I was getting a little nervous in front of them and I felt a sense of comfort in that chaos when I saw my crew was standing right next to me.” Regardless of how things went, I am proud of my comrades for standing by me and doing all we could to ensure we safely got out of a bad situation. I am proud of antifascists anytime they stand up to fascism. We stood up, and we’ll be standing up again the next time the fascists have a rally.

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Rose City Counter-Info is a counter-info project based in so-called Portland, Oregon. It serves as a platform for submissions of any communiques, reports, zines, analyses, announcements, calls to action, art and musings relevant to anarchists and radicals in Portland and the greater Portland area.

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