Alice Speri, March 3, 2021
On the day of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, dozens of protesters in Portland, Oregon, marched to the state Democratic Party’s headquarters, carrying signs against police and the incoming administration. “We don’t want Biden, we want revenge,” one of them read, “for police murders, imperialist wars, and fascist massacres.” A few protesters, dressed all in black and with their faces covered, smashed windows, scrawled graffiti, and set a trash canister on fire.
It was a familiar scene in Portland, which was gripped by more than four months of almost-uninterrupted protests last summer following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Local police, under the leadership of Portland’s Democratic mayor, had met those protests with tear gas and violence. But as the city became the epicenter of a nationwide protest movement of historic proportions, it also became a symbol of former President Donald Trump’s battle against antifa, the far-left, radical ideology those black-clad protesters had come to represent. At the height of the protests, Trump sent dozens of federal troops to Portland, where they doubled down on local police’s repression, at one point disappearing demonstrators into unmarked vans. The administration also devoted significant resources to a failed attempt to build its case against antifa, short for anti-fascists, which officials tried to designate as a terrorist organization. As part of that effort, they reassigned scores of prosecutors and FBI agents who had been focused on other threats, like the one posed by far-right extremists — an intelligence failure that was put on stark display when supporters of the president staged an assault on the U.S. Capitol days before he left office.
With Trump now gone, the Inauguration Day protest in Portland was a warning that a change in administration would have little effect on the city’s streets. Portland has a long history of anti-fascist activism, deeply intertwined with its history of white supremacist violence. And while it was largely Trump who elevated antifa to a household name, generations of Portland anti-fascists have for decades opposed far-right, racist extremists as well as police.