Oregon Public Broadcasting reports Wednesday that black members of Portland’s Black Lives Matter movement are tired of their anti-racism demonstrations being hijacked by the mostly white “Antifa” anarchists and are working to separate the two movements as protests continue.
“Tensions between Black activists fighting for racial justice and anti-establishment protesters have bubbled beneath the surface for months,” the outlet says, noting that many of the anti-racism protests, now in their sixth month, began as peaceful demonstrations but became violent after nightfall, when anarchist groups, who organized on social media, appeared.
The riots, which made national headlines, tainted the Black Lives Matter protests, activists say, and confused commentators who often assumed the violence developed from the demonstrations. Instead, they say, the unrest was wholly separate — and now they want the groups to disentangle.
“This week marks six months since Floyd’s death, and protests continue in Portland,” OPB reports. “But now, activists in the city are divided as to whether they are still fighting in a racial justice movement centered on Black lives, or if an unfocused, anti-establishment fight against capitalism and state power has usurped the initial cause that brought thousands of Portlanders into the streets.”
BLM activists also contend that the largely white “Antifa” group is “privileged,” noting that many of those arrested during the protests are middle- or upper-class, are quickly free on bail, and often escape prosecution — luxuries not often afforded to people of color who tangle with the same justice system.
“Most Black people in our community don’t feel like they have the privilege to go straight to the police and yell in their face,” one activist told OPB. “If you’re privileged, if you’re white, you care less about whether or not a protest is going to result in reforms that might save even just one life. And you have the ability to be a purist in a way that Black and brown communities really do not.”
The privilege gap becomes an even bigger problem, BLM activists say, when the Anarchists push back against peaceful protesters who suggest less violent tactics might be more effective at achieving protest goals. In Portland, especially, the notorious, Antifa-aligned Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front excoriated more peaceful groups for “pacifying the nightly justice center action,” calling members of BLM “police collaborators.”
The breakup does go deeper. Antifa-aligned groups tried to “cancel” social justice organizers, dredging up old Tweets, accusing key BLM protest leaders of sexism and “being disrespectful to women.”
Interestingly, the calls for “separation,” though, have surfaced only recently, as protests are dying down. BLM was largely silent over the summer, even as the unrest in Portland threatened lives and security, and the more “peaceful” elements of Portland’s protest community said little when Antifa-aligned groups began marching through Portland’s residential areas, confronting homeowners they deemed insufficiently supportive of their cause.
It could be that the election made a difference. The Los Angeles Times reports that things began to fall apart between the two groups just a month ago — the day after the presidential election — after Antifa-aligned groups tried to “send a message” to leftists about party politics and attacked the city’s Democratic Party headquarters.
“The day after President-elect Joe Biden delivered his victory speech, telling the nation it was time to heal and unite, a clandestine Twitter account — @safePDXprotest — summoned Portland anarchists,” the LA Times reported. “Word spread through the group that the target tonight would be the local headquarters of the Democratic Party. Somebody started beating a drum as a chant broke out: ‘F— Joe Biden!'”
BLM activists, satisfied that President Donald Trump had likely been defeated, pushed back, claiming they’d reached their goal. At that point, BLM began accusing the anarchists of “hijacking the movement and undermining the push for racial justice by continuing to commit violence.”
Protests in Portland have died down considerably. Although unrest over the summer drew crowds of several hundred, a demonstration over the weekend drew just over a dozen individuals.