Last August, the nation was rocked by the “Unite the Right” rally that turned into a violent melee that left one dead, several people injured, and the entire city of Charlottesville, Virginia, shaken to its core. This August, another city has been shaken by alt-right induced violence. Though no one was killed when alt-right agitators targeted Portland, Oregon, their actions and the supportive rhetoric emanating from their friends in high places serve as a painful reminder that hate is not only a continuing problem in 21st century America, but it’s also become a prominent force in our politics and public sphere.
What happened in Charlottesville, and what’s been going on since?
On August 11, 2017, notorious alt-right agitator Jason Kessler led a “Unite the Right” demonstration in support of “Confederate heritage” in Charlottesville. What had previously been a debate over the future of local Confederate monuments then became a national conversation on race in America when “white nationalist” leader Richard Spencer and a slew of other national far-right figures descended upon Charlottesville in search of a fight. Not only did their activity lead to physical altercations, but they fueled the fire that motivated fellow neo-Nazi James Alex Fields to kill Heather Heyer and injure some 20 other pro-civil rights counter-protesters by mowing them down with his car.
In the year since the attack, Charlottesville locals have had to contend with not just the crude bigotry exemplified by the monuments, but also the more latent discrimination that still exists in everyday life. Meanwhile one of Virginia’s most prominent supporters of the alt-right, Corey Stewart (R), is now running for U.S. Senate there. And despite the outcry for change, the Republican-controlled State Senate killed legislation to regulate the kinds of armed militias that terrorized Charlottesville last year.
What’s with the alt-right riots in Portland?
Out west, Oregon is no stranger to far-right militia activity. Less than three years ago, Nevada’s own Bundy clan swooped into the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to lead an armed occupation that was only ended when federal and local law enforcement officials went in to arrest them. Unlike the rural desert of Harney County, the lush, green landscape and colorful progressive politics of Portland is the last place one would expect another far-right militia occupation. And yet this city has repeatedly been targeted by far-right militia organizations, even after a local white supremacist killed two men who were protecting two young women he was verbally attacking.
Portland suffered another surge of violence last weekend, when the extreme misogynist Proud Boys teamed up with the equally bigoted Patriot Prayer network for a “Freedom March” that ended with the police cracking down… On left-wing “antifa” counter-protesters, leaving multiple counter-protesters injured. Not only is lead organizer and U.S. Senate candidate Joey Gibson (R) proud of his handiwork, but he’s also bringing the “Freedom March” to his own home state of Washington with a “rally against left-wing violence” in Seattle on August 18.
Leadership (or lack thereof) begins at the top
Of course, these are just a couple of the most prominent examples of alt-right activity careening into uncontrolled violence. In 2014 Nevada suffered two far-right induced incidents with the original Bundy Ranch standoff in Bunkerville, followed by two Bundy supporters who had been kicked off the ranch bringing their “revolution” to town by assassinating two Las Vegas Metro police officers and a third person who had tried to stop them. Less than two months ago, a man expressing conspiracy theories spread by the online extremists at QAnon stopped traffic at the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge near the Hoover Dam, and was found to be carrying multiple weapons in his homemade armored vehicle after he was arrested by police.
As the far-right militia movement increasingly goes to any length to “get its message across”, even if that length involves violence, what’s being done about it? Both Virginia and Nevada have done plenty of soul-searching to dig to the root of this unrest and figure out how to build that more perfect union. In light of recent events, Oregon may be next.
Meanwhile at the White House, President Donald Trump is… Waging a social media war on LeBron James, journalists (again), and others who’ve dared to question the motive and the veracity of Trump’s incendiary rhetoric. And of course, Trump’s incendiary rhetoric continues to fuel the fire of alt-right extremism and provide ready-made justification for their actions. Even as people’s lives remain on the line, Trump just won’t stop comforting the offenders and raging against the afflicted.
Perhaps instead of tweeting about how others are allegedly “low IQ”, Trump himself needs to reassess whether it’s smart to constantly fan the flames of hate. While he’s soaking up the heat, innocent people are being burned.
Cover photo by Anthony Crider, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Wikimedia.