How Far Right Supports Protests Over Unwelcome Presence Of Federal Agents In Portland

Jul 27, 2020
Originally published on July 27, 2020 5:13 pm
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More federal officers are on their way to Portland in addition to the 114 federal agents already there. That's according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. The agents say they are in Portland to protect federal property, and this influx of new federal officers happens as clashes between police and protesters are growing increasingly heated and even violent. As NPR's Kirk Siegler reports, that is a familiar dynamic in the Pacific Northwest.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Feds, go home. Feds, go home. Feds, go home.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: A large crowd of Portland progressives chanting, feds, go home. But over the weekend, some heads turned when a few young men wearing flak jackets over their Hawaiian shirts showed up, so-called boogaloo boys, a mishmash of extremists calling for another civil war.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We don't support violence. I want to make that clear. We don't support violence.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We are not racist.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We're not racists.

SIEGLER: The men refused to give their names in this video posted to Twitter by freelance journalist Sergio Olmos.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: So, I mean, we're out here for a lot of the same reason that these people are out here for.

SIEGLER: Extremists implying they're showing up to protest federal overreach in a liberal city seems like strange bedfellows. But in the northwest, the far right has been protesting what it calls federal tyranny for years. And four years ago, Oregon was also in the spotlight for a protest that included vandalism of federal property...

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: For the Constitution.

SIEGLER: ...The 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Come on, baby. Here she comes.

SIEGLER: Men in cowboy hats calling themselves patriots tore down fences and bulldozed over land considered sacred to Native Americans, causing close to a million dollars in damage. In Portland this summer, the damage tally is much smaller; according to the government, an estimated $50,000 dollars in vandalism so far. And here, the far right has mostly been quiet about the alleged federal crackdown. That's just fine with Eric Ward. He's executive director of Western States Center, a Portland group that tracks extremism in the northwest.

ERIC WARD: We have our hands full with a quasi federal police force. We don't now need quasi military formations on the streets of Portland to add to that.

SIEGLER: For the past three years, far-right extremists have regularly descended on Portland to clash with leftists. These protests were often a spectacle, almost always tense and sometimes violent. So few people here are eager to see any strange bedfellows alliances with far-right patriots who, Ward says, are selfish.

WARD: With a few exceptions, they are made up of leaders who hold up the Constitution with one hand and crush it with the other.

SIEGLER: One far-right leader who's lately shown support of the BLM cause, anyway, is Ammon Bundy. At the very Portland courthouse that's now the flashpoint of the new protests, Bundy was acquitted for leading that 2016 wildlife refuge occupation.

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AMMON BUNDY: If you think that somehow the Black Lives Matter is more dangerous than the police, you must have a problem in your mind.

SIEGLER: Bundy took to Facebook telling his followers that federal police forces have turned into a huge bureaucracy and need to be defunded.

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BUNDY: If you think that antifa is the one going to take your freedom, you must have a problem in your mind.

SIEGLER: Bundy later claimed he was ostracized by his own supporters for saying that. Experts say that's because the far right generally views what's happening in Portland to be a liberal urban political fight. But Western historian Patty Limerick says that could change. She says President Trump picked the wrong region for a standoff. There is a long and complicated history of fighting the federal government here, and it crosses political boundaries.

PATTY LIMERICK: By one point of view, President Trump might have had an adviser - and he didn't - but who said, you know, this thing where you're going to be sending these personnel for federal agencies into a Western city? I wouldn't do that.

SIEGLER: The city will be going into its 61st continuous night of protests tonight with no signs of the movement dying down.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Portland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.