The sending of federal police to Portland, Oregon, to confront protests against cop brutality marked by violence from antifa and similar groups has sparked an intense debate. Many workers are outraged at seeing federal cops in full riot gear deployed on the streets firing tear gas, rubber bullets and exploding pepper balls.
The Donald Trump administration is taking advantage of the violent attacks by antifa and other middle-class radicals to claim the deployment is needed to enforce “law and order” and protect federal buildings. Leading the federal cops is the Border Patrol Tactical Unit — which is a Department of Homeland Security SWAT team whose training and camouflage fatigues mirror that of U.S. special forces — along with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Federal Protective Service agents.
Working people don’t like the vandalizing of government buildings, looting and other violent acts, whether justified as political protest or the action of gangs. These aren’t acts of frustration, but conscious destruction, which give the government pretexts to unleash more cop brutality.
Workers also don’t like the introduction of federal cops, especially ones trained for military combat, which take advantage of the violence to chip away at the right to protest. Anger at the use of the federal cops boosted the size of demonstrations in Portland, Seattle and elsewhere.
Portland: longtime antifa center
In many cities protesters calling for prosecution of the cops who killed George Floyd in Minneapolis relied on themselves to rapidly push back looting and vandalism. Lines of demonstrators at times protected stores from gangs intent on grabbing what they could or antifa elements seeking to provoke violence and chaos. But especially in Portland and Seattle, longtime bases for antifa-aligned groups, protests are still frequently marred by the setting of fires, breaking windows on public buildings and other acts of violence. Black-owned businesses are among those that were burned.
If you look at pictures of the Portland protests, you can easily pick out these forces, brandishing shields, sticks, Molotov cocktails and other weaponry, often dressed in black.
Antifa and anarcho-radical forces oppose a working-class course to broaden out the movement, which could draw millions into independent political action against cop violence.
Liberal politicians and media pundits have worked overtime giving political cover to antifa violence and gang looting. “Destroying property, which can be replaced, is not violence,” New York Times staffer Nikole Hannah-Jones claimed on CBS News in June, as if the lives of small proprietors and workers who find their livelihoods destroyed are of no importance. The Times and other liberal media insist on amalgamating all those on the streets in Portland together, claiming they’re all just “protesters.”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler joined a protest July 23 to try and focus attention on Trump’s deployment of federal police as the central problem. When he complained after he was one of those tear gassed, he was booed by protesters, who pointed out he had sent out local cops to tear gas protests long before the feds appeared.
In many cities like Portland, the protests don’t have a concrete centralizing focus — like pressing for charges to be filed against cops who killed Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, or Elijah McClain in Aurora, Colorado. In that vacuum, antifa and the liberals say that President Trump’s use of federal troops proves that we are living under fascism or in a police state. But this is palpably false. If either were the case today, you wouldn’t be reading this newspaper, much less attending frequent protests.
An anonymous report posted on the website “It’s Going Down” glorifies battles with the cops. The site says it is “a digital community center for anarchist, anti-fascist, autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements across so-called North America.” They say they’re anarchists with “no allegiance to representational politics.”
Glorification of violence
“We’ve all been mad for weeks now,” one anonymous post from Portland says. “Sleepless and wide-eyed. Tear gas addicts. Can’t sleep unless our skin is burning.”
The writer describes prying boards off windows “to light a massive fire with no police response.” In what is a summary of the conduct of the antifa groups, the writer adds, “Violence is coming: may as well have fun while we wait.”
This has nothing to do with fighting racism, ending police brutality or organizing working people to stand shoulder to shoulder in the face of attempts of the capitalist class to make us pay for the crisis of their system. In fact this glorification of violence for violence’s sake among those who claim to be on the “left” is a deadly danger to the working class.
Fortunately the choice for working people isn’t between the Trump administration and its deployment of federal forces in cities across the country or antifa thugs and their liberal apologists.
The Socialist Workers Party is campaigning for working people to build their own party, a labor party that can help mobilize millions to bring to power a workers and farmers government. That would open the road to replacing the dog-eat-dog capitalist system — and its cops and entire criminal “justice” system — once and for all.