Three months in, violent demonstrations in Portland show no sign of ending. Police have declared eight riots in the first half of August and a total of 17 since the protests began at the end of May. More than 100 arrests have been made in the past three weeks alone.
National media have been mostly silent on this story, showing interest only in the presence of federal protective agents in the city. The disparity in attention is not hard to figure. For a press so rigorously set on opposition to the Trump administration, the only story of interest in Portland was the authoritarian implications of the president’s executive order aimed at protecting federal property. Insofar as the presence of serious and sustained violence on the part of the protesters was acknowledged at all by left-leaning media and Democratic Party functionaries, it was described as a reaction to Department of Homeland Security officers supposedly provoking unrest in the midst of an otherwise peaceful event. But this narrative is getting harder to maintain as the destruction continues, since federal law-enforcement officers have mostly left.
The Left’s messaging on Portland has swung between valorization of protesters and outrage at instances of police misconduct. Responses from Democratic politicians tend toward a milquetoast condemnation of abstract “violence” paired with an insistence that the protests are “mostly peaceful,” with participants including “pregnant mothers,” as Senator Kamala Harris insisted to DHS Secretary Chad Wolf. But even if many or most protesters are nonviolent at any given moment—thus the “mostly peaceful” refrain—it’s a legalistic distinction when describing a city consumed by chaos.
It’s true that “peaceful protesters” make up a majority in the early hours of daily demonstrations. But clashes between police and demonstrators don’t begin in earnest until later in the night, when the pregnant mothers and other sympathetic characters have gone home, making way for a well-organized coalition of black-bloc-clad anarchists who arrive with the intent of perpetrating violence against a range of targets, including federal officers.
This violence, as its apologists like to emphasize, is predominantly property damage—setting fires to courthouse buildings, firebombing police stations, smashing windows, and covering Portland buildings with graffiti—but it has not been confined to such crimes. Police officers have been sent to the hospital on multiple occasions as a result of street battles with mortar-wielding anarchists. In the past week, a disturbing new video surfaced showing a driver being pulled out of his pickup truck and brutally beaten by a mob.
Democratic leaders owe it to voters to be honest about their disposition toward this mayhem. A June poll showed that the majority of Americans—including 48 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Independents—supported sending in the military to “supplement police forces” struggling to respond to the recent uprisings in cities throughout the country. Though Arkansas senator Tom Cotton’s New York Times op-ed advocating such a move met with controversy, most Americans strongly oppose sustained public disorder.
But the Democratic Party has moved leftward on these questions. It was less than six years ago that Barack Obama made a point of stating that he had “no sympathy at all” for rioters in Ferguson, Missouri, sending 1,500 National Guard troops into the state to enforce a curfew in response to the violence that erupted after the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a local police officer. Then, as now, Obama’s sentiment reflects the views of a bipartisan majority. Yet today, the Democrats are too beholden to their activist base to give voice to such commonsense opinions.
If our national press were interested in upholding its nominally nonpartisan commitments, reporters would be pressing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to state their position on the disaster in Portland. Don’t hold your breath.
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