Andy Ngo joins City Journal editor Brian Anderson to discuss the recent outbreak of violence in Portland between far-left activists, commonly referred to as Antifa, and right-wing groups that gathered to oppose them.
Pacific Northwest cities like Portland and Seattle have long been hotbeds for extreme left-wing political movements. Recently, video emerged of black-clad Antifa activists directing midday traffic and harassing drivers in Portland’s business district. A week later, street brawls broke out after an Oregon-based right-wing group called Patriot Prayer held a march in downtown Portland, purportedly in protest of the mayor’s oversight of the police and leniency with far-left activists.
Political violence may be spreading to other cities: this past weekend, Antifa brawled with members of the Proud Boys in New York.
Andy Ngo is an editor at Quillette and a writer whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, The American Spectator, and City Journal.
Brian Anderson: Welcome back to the 10 Blocks Podcast. This is your host, Brian Anderson, editor of City Journal. Joining me on the show today is Andy Ngo. Andy is an editor at Quillette, where he writes about free expression, the culture wars, and much, much more. He’s written for City Journal, too and the Wall Street Journal. Andy is a resident of Portland where he is a graduate student at Portland State. He’s been on the ground to witness growing protests in the city over the last two weeks. Left-wing activists, generally ranging themselves under the heading, Antifa, have unleashed chaos on a couple occasions in the city. During one recent protest, viral videos captured black-clad Antifa protestors in the downtown area directing traffic and harassing drivers, all while officers and the city’s police department looked the other way. Then this past weekend, right-wing groups opposed to Antifa arrived in the city, resulting in a street brawl between the two groups with no life-threatening injuries, thankfully. Urban unrest is nothing new to City Journal, of course, and we should mention that New York also saw its own outbreak of disturbing political violence over this past weekend. But to find out more about what’s going on in Portland, we’ll talk to Andy after this.
Hello again everyone, this is Brian Anderson, the editor of City Journal. On the line we have Andy Ngo. Andy is an editor at Quillette and a resident of Portland, Oregon. Andy thanks for joining us.
Andy Ngo: It's my pleasure to be with you.
Brian Anderson: To everyone outside the northwest, cities like Portland and Seattle appeared to have an active and increasingly violent left-wing street movement. Can you talk a little bit about your city and maybe introduce yourself to our listeners? How long have you lived there and what sets Portland apart or what sets the political culture of Portland apart from some other cities?
Andy Ngo: You know I have to refer to some of the amazing work that your colleague, Heather Mac Donald, has done on the victim ideology. I say that Portland is a city where victimhood ideology is mainstreamed and is normalized, and it flows through the ethos and hearts and minds of the denizens here. So I've lived in Portland most of my life and it's a progressive bubble. There are several factors that kind of make it a perfect storm for these radical, street, far-left violence and then the clashes that they have with the hard right groups. And so on one element you have the political which is that it's a really progressive bubble in the state of Oregon—
Brian Anderson: I assume the city council is dominated by leftists.
Andy Ngo: Yes I would say that's a fair characterization. And then so there's one factor there and then the other dimension to it is demography as well, which I don't hear people talk about as much. So Portland is a majority white city and I think I've heard it dubbed as one of America's whitest cities for the size that it is. So with these two factors together, it creates this element of this extreme white guilt, I would say. I've witnessed it a lot and it makes the city vulnerable to radical leftist movements that try to exploit white guilt for their own political gain and I think that's my analysis for why we've seen the leadership of the city kind of take a hands-off approach when it comes to political violence from the far left. Because there's probably certain, perhaps, sympathies as well as a critical mass of constituents who are supportive of these groups.
Brian Anderson: Now, for people outside of Portland reading about these outbreaks on Drudge or somewhere else it's a little difficult perhaps for them to understand what's going on. Perhaps you could give a brief timeline of the most recent protests and what has set them off. I think there was a police shooting behind one of the protesters, correct?
Andy Ngo: Yes, so the viral video footage from Portland where you see people dressed in black confronting drivers and then one going as far—a group of them going as far as beating an elderly man's car with weapons and pushing him when he got out. That viral footage was recorded just about a week and a half ago, and that stemmed from a response to a police-involved shooting and killing of a young black man, one with a very extensive criminal past, and he is suspected of shooting and injuring two people before the police responded to the incident. So that video footage that a lot of people have seen and has been covered in particularly conservative media, was a protest/rally that was organized by a Black Lives Matter-type of group locally, and then they also work—they have a lot of allies who are part of Antifa. And so whenever these far left groups organize events, Antifa comes up to, in their own words they say that they act as defenders in case white supremacists or whatever attacked them. I think these are unfounded concerns but that's their reason for why they show up with a, sort of, a militia-like element in addition to just a regular political protest.
Brian Anderson: And what about this brawl—this street brawl—that had occurred more recently?
Andy Ngo: Yes, so there's been a lot of focus on brawls that have happened particularly in the past year. The timeline, you have to go back a little bit further—not too far back. Just really things reached a new low, I would say, after the election of Donald Trump. We had three days of mass protests in the city, and then on the third day it became a riot. That was when people really got to see how radical Antifa’s movement was because these people wearing masks, dressed in black, and organized, went in certain business districts in downtown and were destroying business—breaking windows, smashing up property, setting fires on the street—I’ve lived here most of my life and so seeing that with my own eyes at the time, it felt like I was in a war zone. I couldn't believe that I was in the city in the Pacific Northwest in America. And so ever since then, every couple of months, every few months these groups, these so-called social justice groups, will organize protests for the cause of the day. So most recently it had to do with the shooting of Patrick Kimmons. But it can be any number of issues the far-left have taken on. And so this past weekend was unfortunately another street brawl with more violence and I got caught up in that. I went there to document it. I got pepper-sprayed. So there was a last-minute march/rally that was organized by a right-wing group named Patriot Prayer. Now this small group is headed by a man named Joey Gibson, and he's become a pretty infamous person locally in Portland, because he's one of the few people willing to organize pro-Trump rallies in downtown Portland and patriotic events. And so he was doing an event where a rally—a protest—where he was—they were—protesting the inaction of the mayor and then Antifa came to confront them, and then there was a brawl.
Brian Anderson: I see. But nobody was seriously hurt in this?
Andy Ngo: Oh people were seriously hurt. I saw people's faces were bashed onto the ground, and if people are aware of some of the things that Antifa does, they will bring weapons, particularly more like melee type weapons, and then of course they bring pepper spray, mace, bear spray, all that. So they—Antifa comes looking for a fight and I would say the Patriot Prayer group, the hard right group—they go, they defend themselves and they defend themselves to win so they're quite brutal when they respond as well.
Brian Anderson: This is kind of madness in a prosperous successful city like Portland—madness anywhere. What has been the response by local government officials—the mayor, police, city council—to these incidents?
Andy Ngo: The mayor faced a lot of criticism after the footage that I helped publicize went viral, and he held a presser several days ago, saying that he was appalled at the treatment of the elderly man whose car was attacked, but that he supported the decision for the police not to intervene. So he was trying to play both sides but they’re, I believe, they're contradictory positions to have simultaneously. And the mayor just yesterday circulated—his office circulated a draft proposal to try to restrict such—proposing that in the future certain groups would be restricted where and when they can protest. I don't think that would be held up to scrutiny in a court of law but the mayor's response just with his own history, typically mayor Ted Wheeler, Democratic mayor is, instead of stopping the violence his response tends to be trying to limit more speech. So for example last year Patriot Prayer had planned to organize an event that was very heavily publicized because it came on the heels by coincidence with the shooting—excuse me—a stabbing attack that killed two people. It was, they were not related to Patriot Prayer a lot, but this particular person had gone to a Patriot Prayer event before and so the mayor, because the Patriot Prayer had a permit to hold this rally on federal property in downtown Portland, the mayor was calling for the federal government to revoke Patriot Prayer’s permit and even he was rebuked by ACLU of Oregon, which is certainly no fan or friend of Patriot Prayer. But that couples with his, the draft proposal that was released yesterday. It seems like his response is to limit speech rather than to limit violence.
Brian Anderson: —empower the police to, you know, ensure order and a peaceful right to protest. The last question Andy, what are you working on now? I believe you have a podcast. I'd like to hear a bit about that and what it's called.
Andy Ngo: So my writing and journalism focuses on two tracks. I write a lot about what I see are the excesses of social justice, and being in Portland, I would say I am at the epicenter and I get to see this firsthand. So that's what I've discussed with you today. My other track of work is about writing on issues related to political Islam in immigration and integration, and so this past summer I spent many weeks traveling across Europe visiting what areas that are high crime, so vulnerable areas—sometimes the media will tell them no-go zones, although I would say that's a misnomer. But that's my other area of interest is in—
Brian Anderson: As in the banlieue of outside Paris, that kind of—
Andy Ngo: That is one example and I did spend time in in France, yes. So if you follow me on my social media you'll see that I tackle these two topics kind of, and they don't always intersect but sometimes they kind of do. I also run a podcast called Things You Should Ngo. It's a play on my surname Ngo, N-G-O, and on that I do long-form interviews with people that are in the so-called IDW, intellectual dark web, or tangential to it. And so I interview academics, intellectuals, writers, and the topics we talk about are ones that most people are polarized on it, on one view or another. So I try to dive into it in a way that's non polemical that gets to—where the conversation can keep going in an uninterrupted way. So topics we cover are related to hate speech versus free speech and political Islam, the alt-right, white nationalism—all these very contentious topics and so I've launched now five episodes. I would welcome the listeners to please check that out. If they like the work I do and they would like to see more content from me.
Brian Anderson: And where is the—excuse me Andy—where is the podcast available, is it on iTunes or—
Andy Ngo: Currently it is available on YouTube, if you just search my name, Andy Ngo, you’ll see it come up in the top hits.
Brian Anderson: Great, don't forget to check out Andy Ngo’s work at Quillette and his podcast and you can also follow him on twitter @mrandyngo and that's N-G-O. We'd also love to hear your comments about today's episode on Twitter, @CityJournal. Lastly, if you like our show and want to hear more, please leave ratings and reviews on iTunes. Thanks for listening and thanks, Andy, again for joining us.
Andy Ngo: My pleasure.
Brian Anderson: Thanks for joining us for the weekly 10 Blocks Podcast featuring urban policy and cultural commentary with City Journal editors, contributors, and special guests.