There’s a Standoff Between Far-Right and Far-Left Groups in Portland. Trump Just Picked Sides.

He’s considering naming one an “organization of terror.”

Multiple groups, including Rose City Antifa and the Proud Boys, protest in Portland, Ore., on June 29, 2019.Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP

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The city of Portland, Oregon, has been bracing itself for a showdown on Saturday between the Proud Boys, an all-male far-right group, and self-described anti-fascists, known collectively as Antifa. The face-off is expected at the “End Domestic Terrorism” rally, a far-right gathering with a stated purpose of getting Antifa declared as a domestic terrorist organization.

In a tweet an hour before the rally was expected to begin, President Donald Trump weighed in, noting that he was giving “major consideration” to naming Antifa an “organization of terror.” 

It was a curious decision, to say the least. The Proud Boys, a self-described “Western chauvinist” organization, has been designated as a general hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It has organized a number of rallies in Portland over the last three years, and each of them have come with their attendant threats of—and at times, realized—violence: For example, several people were injured when the Proud Boys clashed with activists commemorating Pride Month in the city in June. Portland, a liberal bastion known for its progressivism, has been the chosen site for these clashes thanks in part to Rose City Antifa, the country’s oldest anti-fascism group.

This Saturday’s planned “End Domestic Terrorism” rally promised to be no different. Joe Biggs—a Florida-based Proud Boy, former staffer of the far-right conspiracy theorist site Infowars, and organizer of the rally, wrote “DEATH TO ANTIFA!!!!!!” in a since-deleted tweet. He also told his followers, “Get a gun. Get ammo. Get your gun license. Get training,” in another.

Antifa is a diffuse group of leftists and anarchists who promote using violence to combat racist or fascist ideas. In confrontations with right-wing groups, its followers often wear masks, helmets, and other protective gear.

This isn’t the first time the president has threatened this designation against Antifa. In July, Trump tweeted something similar, stating that Antifa was made up of “Radical Left Wack Jobs.” On August 7, just three days after nine people died in a massacre in Dayton, Ohio, Trump wrote that the shooter “had a history” of supporting Antifa, as well as 2020 Democratic hopefuls Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. CNN reported that a Twitter account that appears to belong to the shooter retweeted tweets supporting Antifa protesters.

Besides far-right activists, naming Antifa a domestic terrorism organization has been the stated goal of a number of Republican lawmakers. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), have introduced a congressional resolution to that effect.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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