This weekend, multiple far-right groups, many of them extremists, protested in Portland. Unsurprisingly, Antifa, a similarly extreme far-left group, met them there. Multiple reports indicated six injuries and 13 arrests, numbers much lower than similar incidents in previous years.
What Are the “Protests” About?
Joe Biggs, a US Army Vet, political commentator, and co-leader of far-right group the Proud Boys said the goal of the weekend’s protest was to “put an end to domestic terrorism.” In this case, he meant Antifa in particular. The Proud Boys were not the only right-wing group to show up, and many of the other groups appeared to promote neo-nazi and white supremacist ideologies.
It is this mixture of groups that led another far-right group, Oath Keepers, a militia vowing to uphold their oath to the constitution, to pull out of the protest. Antifa’s response to Biggs and the protestors read, “no matter how violent their threats are: we will defend ourselves and our community.”
Both groups have and continue to use inflammatory language. Both also dressed the part for battle. Antifa arrived in their typical black clothing and masks while leaders in the Proud Boys and other group encouraged their members to keep helmets and body armor close by. Both sides seem to be ready, and almost eager to fight.
Obviously, these kinds of protests and anti-protests are not happening everyday or in every city nationwide. In fact, Portland seems to be the primary place this kind of escalation is happening. Yet, what we see on the streets, in many ways, feels like the logical next step of the further splitting of Democrats and Republicans.
An Embodiment of Current American Politics?
Bipartisanship in American politics looks like it is becoming an ideology of the past. Donald Trump’s election was the first evidence of this happening. Now, as Democratic primaries are underway it only appears to be getting worse. John Hickenlooper, former governor of Colorado, recently dropped out of the race. He was one of a handful of candidates who have encouraged the party to stop moving to the far left. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be what the people want, as Hickenlooper was not able to rally enough support to merit staying in the race.
The rise of the now-infamous Squad also evidences the shift by Democrats to the far left. The four congresswomen continue to find themselves on the front page of the news pushing far-left agendas, and even when their actions or agenda are inappropriate or racist, the rest of the Democratic party defends them. Republicans are often guilty of the same sin: refusing to condemn the President’s poor rhetoric when he hits “send” too soon on a tweet.
What Portland shows us is that the political temperature is continuing to rise, in some places to the point of violence. Though this weekend remained mostly calm, it is still shocking to see Americans confronting one another in so extreme a manner. Both sides talk in terms of battling and fighting one another, dehumanizing “the other.” It is shocking that police have to line the streets in riot gear now on a regular basis to keep the peace in American cities, not from outside threats but from the threat of fellow countrymen and neighbors.
The big question remains: are we as a country sliding down this slope of polarization or will we manage to find a way to lower tensions and find the common ground we used to share?