Sep 4, 2021

Understanding A22 PDX: Three Responses

Black Bloc and Proud Boys. PDX A22. Photo Jonathan Levinson / OPB
Antifascists face Proud Boys. A22 PDX.
Photo Jonathan Levinson / OPB

The following are three responses we received to the events of August 22, 2001 (A22) in Portland, Oregon. Three sets of voices, each with their own analysis. They are part of the broader discussion surrounding A22 that we are highlightling. These contributions do not represent the analysis or positions of Three Way Fight. However, we support any and all genuine and honest discussion that is of use to our movements regardless of whether we agree with what is raised and put forward. We also understand that real debate can be sharp and at times raw. We will attempt to be conscious of this and as stated previously, a fundamental part of our guidelines are based on 

principled responses, not personal attacks or sectarian squabbles (or, for that matter, uncritical boosterism). We also ask that submissions take into consideration issues of movement security, remembering that both the fascists and the state will be searching for faultiness to divide our movements.  

We appreciate the responses we have received and look forward to those others working to contribute to this discussion. – 3WF

 

*For additional articles please check Rose City Counter-Info who have also been doing good work in making their site a platform for discussion on A22 and antifascism.


Excerpts from three responses:

A small group in our community made last minute plans, to “meet fascists where they’re at”. This only sped up the time at which we would fight, and changed the controlled location to a location we were not familiar with and brought the fight to a marginalized neighborhood. While some made autonomous decisions to fight fascists at the new location (including authors of other reportbacks) many reported they only went to back up others, and they did not want to go. This is not autonomy. Fascists obtained footage of antifascists being injured, not working together, retreating, losing a battle for no reason when we could have won. Some battles are lost, the best one can do is brush it off. What this author finds disturbing is the refusal among some to accept what went wrong. If we cannot accept failings we cannot improve, we must improve to win. It is a necessity. - Response 1

Who can say whether we retreated because we were all afraid, or we were all afraid because we were retreating? Everyone in that Leftist crowd showed up to pick that fight, but they were each and all individually hoping that someone else among their number would win it for them, thus guaranteeing our failure. This is not a game. Don't pick fights you don't mean to win.  - Response 2

It's true, no one has any right to tell you what to do with yourself. Likewise, no one ever needs to work with you or trust your instincts ever again. Autonomy cuts both ways. It's not a "get out of jail free" card. Autonomy is about being absolutely responsible for one's one decisions. The choices one makes.  - Response 3



Response 1

 

One can have good praxis but poor use of tactics; unfortunately, they do not come hand in hand. “Meeting fascists where they are at” is usually good praxis, but not when better tactics are at play. This was such an occasion on 8/22/2021 in Portland, Oregon. Significant measures had been taken downtown to make the area around the waterfront ready for battle, and to keep the homeless neighbors at Chapman safe. While fascists had chosen to move back their location in fear to Parkrose, the plan sensibly remained the same. 

 

Two goals were established early on

  keep fascists out of downtown 

  Keep fascists from hurting Chapman residents, a continued target 

 

These goals were largely achieved when 

  fascists moved location 

  Chapman residents largely chose to move to hotels over the weekend 

 

The largest complaints raised on the day 

 Why just downtown? Parkrose is also Portland. Why aren’t we there? Downtown is a metaphorical win only 

  Why aren’t we “meeting fascists where they are”? This is a basic principle of antifascism 

  How did we know fascists would come downtown? 

- Parkrose has homeless and marginalized people too, and Chapman was no longer in 

danger. They needed protection. 

 

The goal of moving fascists out of downtown had already been accomplished: they moved away after attempting to rebrand. Fascists had already elected to leave downtown in fear. The majority of our houseless friends had chosen to relocate to hotels for 8/21, 8/22, and 8/23, to avoid attacks like 8/7. It seemed the larger goals of 8/22 had been accomplished before the day arrived. The plan was then for fascists to move from their location to downtown. Following their event they would arrive tired, likely drunk, and to a controlled environment, with as few possibilities for harm to the homeless as possible. Antifascists would be prepared for any early combatants, the group arriving together, or stragglers. All that was required was patience. 

 

Why just downtown: the downtown area has been fought over for years. This isn’t just a matter of tradition, it’s a well known playing field. Veteran antifascists know it well after all the skirmishes there, so do fresh faces after fed wars. It’s flat, there are known places to kettle fascists, most know the layout there best. Never underestimate home field advantage. 

 

Parkrose is also Portland: Of course it is. Drawing any potential street fight from Parkrose kept the area significantly safer than taking a half-baked battle plan there. Agitating a hornets nest around people is dangerous and requires risk benefit analysis. There were hundreds waiting to fight fascists in a controlled, mapped out area downtown. Parkrose was full of potential victims, when antifascists had control of downtown. 

 

We should meet fascists where they are: Fascism should always be addressed. Following the original plan did not mean we were allowing them to gather unaddressed. Using a simple (normally good praxis) phrase such as “meet fascists where they are” while ignoring ALL other factors is irresponsible and shows a lack of understanding surrounding tactics. “Meet fascists where they are” is usually the first phrase one learns as an antifascist, those who are shielding themselves behind this while refusing to acknowledge the shortcomings of their actions sound unseasoned and unable to think holistically.


When those who wanted to fight tried to gather support, they repeatedly told others, “All the bloc are going”. This was simply not true. To bolster their numbers this way was at best a potentially deadly error, and at worst manipulation. Bloc who attended reported feeling guilted into going. This makes the attendance that day largely coercion, and not autonomous. Those who wrote report backs made autonomous decisions, good for them. Autonomy is a keystone of our beliefs. But the people they guilted into the action with them were not. There weren’t enough people for this to be successful, there weren’t medics, there weren’t rides. This was a manipulative way to get people on board for a dangerous mission. When it became clear people weren’t going to verbally consent, the group simply walked away. Many started looking around in panic, unsure of what to do. I heard many say something to the effect of “they’ll all die if we don’t go.” This is not autonomy. 

 

The Parkrose area had immense support from medics and mutual aid, but made it sound like the area was incapable of defending or helping itself. Here is a summary from one mutual aid provider, “When the location was dropped, a bunch of us scrambled to get people to warn the camps asap. We had 6 cars go around to the 2 biggest camps off 122nd, which are to the north and south of their Kmart. The biggest one is the one to the south on the freeway ramp. Scouts went up, warned as many tents as possible, talked to RV owners and asked if they could position the RVs defensively to hide the camps a bit. That happened, then 4 people volunteered safe houses and safe yards for people to be treated in, just in case of any attack that required medical care to happen offsite. We also had 5 cars stationed around the camps in discreet spots, with walkies, keeping an eye out for any incoming chud attacks since the previous day and night they'd attacked old town residents and Chapman. Each of those 5 cars had medical supplies and people trained in basic medical care. There was one higher skill level medic who couldn't be out that day, but was willing to dispatch to anyone in need of higher level of care and lives in Park Rose so was no more than 5-10 mins away from either camp. Lastly, the motorcade had scouts sitting on the chud event and watched for trucks coming and going.” The community has been cared for, and a much safer space for this fight was waiting for them downtown. There was no need to face them there. One cannot hide behind “meet fascists where they are'' when every other principle of war goes against your decision. 

 

How do we know fascists would meet us downtown? When have fascists resisted a fight? They were geared up and ready to go. But unlike antifascists, they care about optics. They foamed at the mouth, waiting for us to go first. By going to a second location, it was completely clear the fascists had employed the exact same tactic, Sun Tzu’s 1-3. If we hadn’t given them what they wanted, they would’ve come to us. We know this from historical patterns and from intel. Instead, a small group displayed less ability to wait than fascists, a truly embarrassing thing to write. 

 

By the time that was over, the fascists got what they came for. They attacked, we retreated without covering each other. The exception being a paint on Tiny, there was no attack. No combat or aggressing. We abandoned that man in the truck. One must wonder why it was only press surrounding that truck, and there were no bloc there to help him? We had abandoned him. Why was our beloved driver’s van so badly attacked it now reads FAFO? One contributor to this communique saw the driver with no folks in bloc backing him up. He got surrounded and jumped when he tried to use the van as mobile cover for troops, to protect them from the paintballs. No one helped him. 

 

The main failure was the bastardization of “meet them where they are”. It was used to excuse any and all failure of tactics. “Well, everything went wrong, but at least we “met them where they were.”


The second largest issue was failing at patience. If a Proud Boy can outlast your ability to wait for an impeding battle, you need to question why you are so amped up for a battle. Are you addicted fighting? Do you only feel things when you’re engaged in risky behaviors? If any of those describe you, you put those feelings above the livelihood of your comrades. Because once your desire to fight comes before your comrades, you are bloodthirsty. You’re no better for our community than a wannabe cop. 

 

There were several mentions of the group splitting to hold downtown AND fight at 122nd, which is a tactical nightmare. Despite their “hands off” approach, cops still swarmed. I saw no indication that folks had gone camera hunting days before the action. Theoretically, one would end up in a car with someone you did not know. What if it were a UC or an undercover fash filmer? 

 

Summation: A small group in our community made last minute plans, to “meet fascists where they’re at”. This only sped up the time at which we would fight, and changed the controlled location to a location we were not familiar with and brought the fight to a marginalized neighborhood. While some made autonomous decisions to fight fascists at the new location (including authors of other reportbacks) many reported they only went to back up others, and they did not want to go. This is not autonomy. Fascists obtained footage of antifascists being injured, not working together, retreating, losing a battle for no reason when we could have won. Some battles are lost, the best one can do is brush it off. What this author finds disturbing is the refusal among some to accept what went wrong. If we cannot accept failings we cannot improve, we must improve to win. It is a necessity. 

 

MUTUAL AID AT 122nd 

 

When the location was dropped, MA immediately acted. 6 cars moved to several encampments. Scouts went up, warned as many tents as possible, talked to RV owners and asked if they could position the RVs defensively to hide the camps a bit. That happened, then 4 people volunteered safe houses and safe yards for people to be treated in, in case of any attack that required medical care offsite. 

 

5 cars stationed around the camps in discreet spots, with walkies.


All 5 cars had medical supplies and people trained in basic medical care. One higher skill level medic was willing to dispatch to anyone in need of higher level of care in Park Rose was no more than 5-10 mins away from either camp. Motorcade had scouts sitting on the event. 

 

******************************************************************************

 

Response 2

 

Well, we could complain some more about the intangible stuff, like the way we gave the world footage of us assaulting a journalist and calling her "little slut" or how we gave the chuds plausibility to claim that we came 100s of blocks to pick on their peaceful "Summer of Love" gathering and then they kicked our asses, or that we shot fireworks at a gas station in a poorer neighborhood during fire season, but let's not. 

 

Let’s talk about streetfights. 

 

In order to have this conversation constructively, we are going to agree to check our macho bullshit at the door, and, because violence is inherently difficult and dangerous, we will avoid glorifying it if we can. Well-adjusted people in healthy societies generally try to avoid violence because violence is always traumatic, one way or the other. 

 

Antifascists, unfortunately, must surrender this luxury. The relationship between fascism and violence is a perfect one. They cannot be separated. Fascists *always* attack anyone they perceive as Other, in accordance with whatever cultural prejudices they enshrine. These attacks cannot be ignored or "loved" away. Turning the other cheek to a fascist is literally just presenting a fresh target. History proves this time and again. This means that in order to be effectively antifascist, an antifascist society must be prepared to engage in violence effectively enough to protect themselves and their communities AND to punish the aggressors enough to discourage fascists from continuing to rally and carry out their assaults. Of course, this means practice. 

 

The hard truth is: we must have sufficient numbers of capable warriors at all times. There really is no choice here. 

 

Historically, the Left struggles with this requisite. We have a reputation for being relatively wimpy. A good deal of that rep is nothing more than classic fascist propaganda, but every group of antifascists has to be honest with ourselves about what we are (and are not) capable of, or we will repeat disastrous engagements like the one we saw at Parkrose in Portland on 8-22-21. 

Everyone knows we failed to beat the fash at Parkrose, but not everyone knows just how complete that retreat really was. We turned and fled from the fascists while we had at least 

comparable numbers to theirs. They were tired, drunk, and fighting literally uphill. The first two “reportbacks” about the Parkrose action released by PNWYLF misrepresent these facts in an apparent effort to self-soothe and downplay the seriousness of this situation. I don't give a damn about shaming them, but we need to keep it real. We can't learn from mistakes that we don't admit to making. 

 

We have our occasional bruisers on the Left, of course, but, by and large, our natural inclusivity and healthier views on violence mean we have a lower concentration of competent brawlers than the fash, a fact amplified because they explicitly select violent people. We tend to treat violence as a distasteful emergency resort rather than an essential tool that needs to be maintained in order to function. In reality, it is both. Any antifascist for whom it is possible should be actively involved in their own growth as a competent warrior. 

 

A comrade who was at the Parkrose action described a moment as follows: "Someone ... called out ‘Why are we retreating? Why are we retreating?!’ Someone else responded ‘Because they’re scary!’ ”. 

 

Firstly, as noted in one of the “reportbacks” from the local leftists who are defending the Parkrose Action, fighting is scary. It’s frightening to be confronted by a mob armed with mop handles and bear mace. That goes double if you’ve never been in a fight before, which is why, and I can’t stress this enough: Don’t let your first fight be against the fascists. 

 

This is such an obvious piece of advice that I almost can’t believe it has to be said. If you are “going where the fascists are” in order to fight them, perhaps you should have some goddamn practice at fighting. The more you practice, the less afraid you’ll be. 

 

Training with live partners (sparring is ESSENTIAL —avoid classes that do not offer it) will help to keep you from succumbing to an adrenaline brainscramble when it matters. 

 

The next thing to discuss is gear. Ours was clearly insufficient for that Parkrose engagement, which is part of why we ended up with no real strategy. 

 

As earth's most crafty apes, we've deployed devices on battlefields for literal ages, and every ongoing struggle is an arms race unto itself. 

 

Enemy has paintball guns? We should have shields. Enemy has attack vehicles? We should have spike strips or caltrops. Enemy has cans of bear mace? We could spray their own masks 

with cloying agents (the paint sprayers at Parkrose were my favorite part; absolutely ingenious) to disable them, discouraged them from its use. 

 

It is imperative to meet our opponents with appropriate gear, but it is vital to be proficient with it because —if you think about it— it's gear that determines the way any given showdown will GO down, second only to headcount. 

 

Combat gear's functions beget combat's form. 

 

Loadouts require planning. We are usually pretty good about this, but, in keeping with the theme of this section, we don't practice enough with our gear, which hamstrings our efficiency. Remember watching single officers rupture shield walls in Portland without even trying? We had excellent shields, but piss-poor experience with them, which added "liability" to the list of their qualities. Let me explain. 

 

Any gear that we deploy (from actual weapons all the way down to a simple, all-black outfit) is regarded as an escalation on our part. This is true for the authorities, the enemy, and their sizable shared demographic. It will be used to justify greater uses of force against us, both physically and legally. This is indisputable. So, if you are taking gear out there that you can't use with skill, you expose yourself and your comrades to unnecessary risk. 

 

The last thing I want to talk about is the most important, and it is not a smooth swallow, so let's speak plainly: what we witnessed at Parkrose was the intersection of the Butterfly Effect and the Bystander Effect, and it's a real chicken/egg conundrum, to boot.


Who can say whether we retreated because we were all afraid, or we were all afraid because we were retreating? Everyone in that Leftist crowd showed up to pick that fight, but they were each and all individually hoping that someone else among their number would win it for them, thus guaranteeing our failure. 

 

This is not a game. Don't pick fights you don't mean to win.

 

To sum it up: we need more competent warriors, and we need to be smarter about how we use them. 

 

Take lessons. Train with your Action Groups regularly, even if you are "only" in a supporting role. A group that can effectively fight together is indispensable. Someone said once, "the strength of the wolf isn't the fang —it's the pack." I think about that often. 

 

Take it seriously. At least one person's safety will depend on it, and that's yours. 

 

Avoid martial training that does not teach you how to go on the attack in addition to defensive techniques. Waiting for the enemy to throw that one punch that you learned how to counter doesn't cut it. 

 

Don’t just take self-defense lessons; learn to fight. 

 

We keep us safe. 

 

******************************************************************************

 

Response 3

 

The largest source of contention right now is about tactics, and the use and abuse of radical slogans as a substitute for it. 

 

Tactics are easy enough. Warfare, as espoused by many of history's greatest military leaders, is one of constant ebb and flow. The enemy advances, we retreat, they move, we follow, they rest, we attack. Context determines the appropriate stratagem to use. There is no guarantee that one's actions will work, since the art of war is appropriately called an art, and it requires some degree of artistry and guesswork.

 

The results of said tactics though, are another issue entirely. 

 

Consequences are immune to one's own theoretical predilections. What sounded good on paper, has either performed admirably, or has failed utterly in application. 

 

In this, we can learn something. But only if we look honestly at ourselves, our choices and the consequences of said choices. 

 

But this is where the issue of radical sloganeering comes in. It is being used as a substitute for actual strategy and tactical knowhow, with some folx twisting the words "Autonomy" and "We go where they go" into something like a magical spell. 

 

They hope, by invoking these words, whatever problems may of occurred due to their poor planning and foresight, and whatever harm they've unwittingly done to the movement and their comrades, will just... magically... disappear. 

 

Scars and terror, though, are not easily erased, nor does mouthing radical jargon do anything to assuage those who felt betrayed by their comrades' impulsivity and recklessness. 

 

It's true, no one has any right to tell you what to do with yourself.


Likewise, no one ever needs to work with you or trust your instincts ever again. 

 

Autonomy cuts both ways. It's not a "get out of jail free" card. Autonomy is about being absolutely responsible for one's one decisions. The choices one makes. 

 

Autonomy also means being self-sufficient, which, obviously, was NOT the case 

If one was so “autonomous,” why was there a call for more bodies? Why expect others to show up to finish a fight that you started, away from everyone else? Why not do it yourself? 

 

This sounds like dependency. 

 

And the Evac crews, the medics, all the others who rushed in after hearing folx left to confront the fash by themselves, they certainly didn't come because they were making an autonomous decision. 

 

Most of them followed because they felt compelled to save their comrades from certain doom. This is coercion. 

 

In being "autonomous," some folx were robbed of making their own independent decisions and were forced into playing backup for folx who ultimately abandoned them to their enemies. 

 

People obsessed with “community defense” left their own community members behind, defenseless, and alone. 

 

"But we had to! Shit happens! We must go where they go!" 

 

Do we? Do we need to meet them on their own terms? Could we have enticed them to us? Do you honestly think that the people who coined the phrase “We go where they go” had in mind that folx walk deliberately into a quagmire with no planning at all and with no concern for the fallout? Could it be possible that “We go where they go” involves more than just guts, pluck, and courage, but knowing HOW to confront your enemy in the most damaging way possible, and with the least amount of injury to your side? 

 

It’s like how some treat the "St. Paul Principles" like a holy text, to be followed in every single instance without deviation, and like most holy texts, it is often perverted to suit the needs of cynical opportunists or naive fledglings who twist phrases like “Diversity of Tactics!” to justify window-washing or chalking sidewalks. 

 

In the hands of fools or monsters, even good principles can be used for ill. 

 

Luckily, not only were the “St Paul Principles” supposed to serve a temporary need, but they were meant to be improved upon, to serve as a guide, not a tabernacle.

 

Likewise, when folx spout “We go where they go” to actually mean rushing into the fashs' new location, a poorly scouted one, changed at the very last minute, and done so for the explicit purpose of luring antifascists to them on terrain where they held the advantage... maybe, just maybe... it would've been wiser to wait out the fash, test their patience, frustrate their resolve, and have them come to us. 

 

I know. How utterly blasphemous. ***** 

 

Tactics only derive their appropriateness from context, and the results thereof. While the Parkrose folx may be right that the DT folx depended on counterfactuals for their plan to work (“If only we all stayed here, we could've been way more successful”), the consequences of what DID happen at Parkrose speak for themselves. 

 

There is no justifying what happened there. There are only empty words, devoid of substance, and several communiques written to pull the wool over your eyes.

Related posts:

Understanding A22 PDX: discussion and analysis for the antifascist movements

Understanding A22 PDX: Never Let the Nazis Have the Story! The Narrative Aspect of Conflict

Understanding A22 PDX: Broader implications for militant movements

Understanding A22 PDX: Response from a Comrade, "We Go Where They Go" as strategy for militant antifascism

There Will Always Be More Of Us: Antifascist Organizing

It was no Harpers Ferry: August 22d wasn’t an accident, it was a product of our thinking

1 comment:

  1. the argument that people putting themselves in danger restricts the autonomy of others and is "coercing" them into helping is garbled nonsense. response #3 said it themselves: autonomy means being responsible for your own actions. that includes rushing off to get your ass kicked, but it also includes following behind because you're worried about the people ahead, or staying away and feeling guilty (or smug, or both) for not going along.

    that's a separate issue from lying about the # of people going with the group ("the whole bloc is going" or whatever), which is absolutely coercive, but the two should not be confused.

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