Right-wing protests, organized by the white nationalist group “Patriot Prayer,” attended by members of other white nationalist movements in the Pacific Northwest such as the Proud Boys, 3 Percenters (III%) and the Hell Shaking Street Preachers, led to violence and arrests in the Portland area throughout the summer. These protests were the cause of much consternation on the internet, and eventually led to prominent political figures like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz proposing a ban on antifa, the organization that counterprotested the white nationalist marchers. The start of this proposed ban can be traced back to one person: Andy Ngo.
Ngo is a writer, perhaps better described as a provocateur, from Portland who gained notoriety in 2017 when, according to Willamette Week, he was fired from Portland State University’s newspaper for tweeting a link to an Islamaphobic Breitbart article about PSU. In response to the firing, Ngo wrote an op-ed for The National Review railing against campus censorship, titled “Fired for Reporting the Truth.” This summer, controversy again flared up around Ngo when he began posting edited videos of antifa, a movement dedicated to protesting militant movements in America through direct action. The videos depicted antifa members defending themselves from white nationalist-affiliated protesters at Patriot Prayer marches but, according to the Daily Dot, Ngo edits these videos so they don’t show the inciting moment of the violence, which is often caused by the groups he is affiliated with. Rather, when antifa counter protestors defend themselves, Ngo frames it as antifa attacking the right-wing groups. His framing of the situation, even though it is factually incorrect, has been accepted by many mainstream news outlets.
On June 29 of this year, according to Vox, Ngo was punched and had a milkshake thrown at him by an antifa protester while filming a counterprotest to one of these marches, and was taken to the hospital where he suffered a minor brain bleed. As Vox reports, this injury was an alleged result of the milkshake being laced with concrete (according to The Oregonian, Portland police corroborate this claim, but have not made their evidence public in this weeks since their claim). Ngo milked the attention that this injury brought him, and as a result made appearances on FOX News and columns in major right-wing news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal and Spectator USA. In the subsequent outrage from the right, President Donald Trump tweeted on Aug. 17 that “…consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an ‘ORGANIZATION OF TERROR.’ [sic]” and that “Portland is being watched very closely.”
Why should you be scared that antifa is possibly going to be labeled as an “organization of terror?” Because this is a tactic by those in power to silence political dissent. Trump has a long history of attempting to quash dissent, having been vocal since the beginning of his campaign about so-called “fake news” sources, a term he uses for news sources which do not report favorably about him, and has referred to news sources such as MSNBC and CNN as “enemies of the people” in his tweets, rallies and speeches. This proposed ban will effectively ban anything that the Trump White House deems as “antifa,” because the movement doesn’t have any formal organizational structure. Are you protesting inaction towards climate change? They’ll call you antifa and try to silence you. Are you protesting sexual assault? They’ll call you antifa, your protest will be violently dispersed and people will be arrested. Are you protesting ICE detention centers? If someone says you’re antifa, they’ll shut you down. Are you protesting police brutality? If there’s even the slightest possible notion of antifa presence, they will send out the riot cops. Protesting anything that Trump’s America doesn’t want you to protest? You’ll be labeled antifa and shut down. Because of how vague the concept of banning antifacism is, this attempted ban could lead to the silencing of many voices protesting many issues across ideological boundaries. No matter who you are, if there is an issue that you hold close to your heart and you plan on taking direct action to see it change, you could be labeled as an enemy of the state on the whim of the Trump administration.