Black members of Portland’s Black Lives Matter movement say that they are fed up of their protests being hijacked by mostly white Antifa militants and intend to separate the two groups.
“Much like the rest of the country, outrage over police violence reached a tipping point in Portland after Minneapolis officers choked George Floyd to death. Black activists in Portland quickly mobilized massive crowds and made explicit policy demands for city and state leaders to advance racial justice,” reports Oregon Public Broadcasting.
As protests continue in Portland, activists in the city say they are divided as to whether they are still fighting for social justice, and have expressed concerns that their movement has been hijacked by anarchists whose “fight against capitalism and state power has usurped the initial cause that brought thousands of Portlanders into the streets.”
“Tensions between Black activists fighting for racial justice and anti-establishment protesters have bubbled beneath the surface for months,” reports Oregon Public Broadcasting, adding, “And while anarchist groups in Portland are predominantly white, the dynamics are more complicated than Black versus white activists — a point that has befuddled politicians, media commentators and onlookers trying to understand who is leading protests and what their goals are.”
The outlet reports that Portland city leaders tried early on to distinguish “good protesters” from “bad protesters” in public statements, labels that activists from both groups have rejected.
“From the earliest protests this summer, Black organizers were careful not to condemn the variety of tactics being employed, even if they themselves chose different approaches. Some Black organizers found helpful allies among the more radical groups,” OPB reports. “Plus, anarchist protesters aren’t a homogenous group or all white.”
The Antifa-driven riots, which made international headlines, tainted the message of the Black Lives Matter movement and has led many to assume that violence was inevitably the result of initially peaceful demonstrations. The activists say that the unrest driven by Antifa was wholly separate and want for the groups to disentangle.
The Black Lives Matter activists describe the mostly white Antifa as “privileged,” clarifying that many of those arrested for violence are middle- or upper-class whites who often escape prosecution following their arrests. These are luxuries that they claim are unavailable to minorities arrested in Portland.
“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,” an activist said to the outlet. “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 issue has been exacerbated by the tactics of some Antifa-aligned groups. In particular, the Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front has attacked peaceful organizers for “pacifying the nightly justice center action” and has excoriated BLM activists as “police collaborators” in their calls for peaceful demonstrations, as opposed to violence.
Throughout the summer, Antifa militants have marched through Portland’s residential neighborhoods, often confronting residents for being insufficiently supportive of their cause. Black Lives Matter activists remained largely silent about Antifa’s actions, until now.
The break between the two groups came to a head early November when Antifa groups besieged the Democratic Party headquarters in Portland to “send a message” to other leftists, to encourage direct action.
“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 Los Angeles 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!'”
Standing in Joe Biden’s camp, Black Lives Matter activists were incensed by the direct action against the Democrats and began to accuse Antifa of “hijacking the movement and underining the push for racial justice by continuing to commit violence.”
Protests have largely quieted down following the media’s declaration of Joe Biden as president-elect with violent unrest consisting of no more than a handful of Antifa militants since then.